There comes a time when every coach wonders if he has properly prepared his team. Has the coach been working his players too hard, or not hard enough? Are the players rested, or not rested enough? Has the work load been manageable, or has too much been thrown their way?
For an NBA coach, this season's quandary arrives when his team plays back-to-back-to-back games. All 30 teams will play at least one BTBTB. Ten teams will play two.
The Thunder's lone BTBTB of the season begins Friday at 7 p.m. with a game against the Houston Rockets inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Then comes a game at Houston on Saturday night, then back home on Sunday night to face the San Antonio Spurs. That's followed by a travel day to Memphis and back-to-back road games against the Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets.
That's five games in six nights for the Thunder, which opened the season by going 5-0 in a span of seven nights.
OKC jumped head-first into the league's condensed 66-game regular-season schedule. Through Tuesday, the Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers were the only teams to have played seven games in the first 10 days.
As if his next quest weren't difficult enough, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has one more question every coach wonders from time to time. Is it starve a cold and feed a fever, or the other way around?
Starting guard Thabo Sefolosha, who on Tuesday night missed only his fourth start in the last three-plus seasons, continues to suffer from flu-like symptoms, and did not practice Thursday. He remains questionable against the Rockets.
Reserve guard Daequan Cook appears to have conquered his bout with the flu, but is now wearing goggles to alleviate light and help combat dizziness and nausea.
The NBA's 149-day lockout gave coaches extra time to think through their preparations this season, but there can be danger in over-thinking it.
“It's a combination,” Brooks said. “You don't want to over-think it, but you also want to think it through.”
In hopes of conserving his team's energy, Brooks has shortened practice times and game day shoot-around sessions. However, doing so has also limited preparation time.
“We still want to get things accomplished,” Brooks said. “We still have to put things in, and we have.”
OKC reserve center Nazr Mohammed was a rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers the last time the NBA had a lockout during the 50-game season in 1999.
Mohammed left the University of Kentucky after his junior season and played just 121 minutes in 26 games as a rookie. He played 16 combined minutes in the Sixers' BTBTB stretch from Feb. 18-20, 1999.
“I didn't play much so I didn't get a chance to experience what it does to the body,” Mohammed said. “For some guys, it's going to be extremely tough. If you're a high-minute guy and you play back-to-back-to-back — the emotional high you get to prepare for games and then for three straight nights — it's tough to stay at that height. Physically, it just beats up your body, too. We'll see what happens. We've got some young guys."
Asked which aspect was more demanding, the physical or emotional, without hesitation Mohammed said: "Oh, the emotional. That's the most draining. Everybody has a mindset they get for the game. You just do what you need to do to get your head right and then to stay at that level for three straight nights when your body is telling you, 'You really can't do it.' To stay at that mental level is tough."
Actually, the Thunder has one of the easier BTBTBs in the league. Playing the Rockets on consecutive night leaves one less team to prepare against. Playing two games at home is a bonus. Your lone road game is a 58-minute flight in the same time zone, which is far better than flying back home from the west and losing precious hours of sleep. Plus, it's still early in the season.
"There's really not much you can do. Just come out and be ready to play," Thunder veteran forward Nick Collison said. "It's going to be difficult, but every team's going through it. Just get as much rest as you can when we're not playing, but once we get out there we just have to play basketball. It's still early enough in the season that there's no reason we can't get all three. They're tough opponents, but that's not going to be an excuse for us."
Brooks breaks down having to play three straight nights the same way he breaks down darn-near everything – one game at a time.
"You just have to worry about the first game, and then move to the second game, and then finish up with the third," Brooks said. "We have a good team, and players are going to have to step up and fill the minutes when they get them. We expect that. They know that as a coaching staff we believe in what they do. The three games are going to be a fun challenge for all of us."