Observations from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 116-98 victory at Phoenix on Wednesday night inside US Airways Center, where the Thunder is now riding a three-game winning streak:
* Coach Scott Brooks pretty much is saying the same things in March that he did in October. Now that April has arrived, he no doubt will repeat the same this month.
“Play the right way.”
“There’s still room to improve.”
“Every day is a work day.”
“This is no time to rest.”
“We need to improve on our pick-and-roll and help-side defense.”
Brooks uttered these verses again after his team beat the Suns with conviction. Staying true to your word is fine, I suppose, but this came on a night that warranted at least some kind of appreciation of two impressive feats.
1. With eight games remaining in the season, the Thunder (50-24) already has matched last season’s victory total.
2. March became the most successful month in franchise history — in OKC and Seattle — with a 14-2 record.
Before the game, Brooks said he never has talked to his team about reaching last year’s victory total, nor has he mentioned the possibility of going 14-2 in March.
You figured Brooks probably was trying to keep his team’s private business inside the locker room. If the Thunder was going to celebrate, it would do so in privacy. That, too, would have been fine.
On what would qualify as a significant day in the Thunder’s young history, Brooks essentially shrugged his shoulders at win No. 50.
“It was not brought up,” Brooks said before joking, “Maybe I should go back in there and say, ‘Good job, guys.’ ”
You figured when the Thunder locker room was opened to reporters, there would still be some kind of evidence of recognition — the number “50″ written on a grease board somewhere, perhaps “14-2.”
There was nothing, and when Thunder players were asked about the two achievements, they also might as well have shrugged.
Were the No. 50 and 14-2 discussed before the game? No.
Were they discussed afterward? No.
Was either at least mentioned in passing? No.
Anyone in here have a pulse?
Even after some prodding, the players remained beyond composed.
Thabo Sefolosha: “We didn’t discuss it. Not at all, actually. It shows we’re working hard.”
James Harden: “Nobody even mentioned it. We’re just on a roll. That’s definitely a great accomplishment.”
Eric Maynor: “We’re winning and we know we’re playing good basketball. That’s the main thing. If we keep doing that, we’ve got a shot at winning every night.”
Reserve guard Royal Ivey wasn’t with the Thunder last season.
“Oh, I noticed it,” Ivey said of reaching the 50-win mark. “This is a tough league, especially in the Western Conference and to do it back-to-back years is quite an accomplishment. We’re playing good basketball and the wins are coming. You can’t take winning for granted. It’s a good feeling to be part of a winning team, or a winning tradition now. The stakes are high, so you’ve got to keep it rolling.”
* As the team’s elder statesman at age 33 and a world champion while with San Antonio, center Nazr Mohammed knows the most important ingredients to succeeding in the postseason.
“Half-court execution,” Mohammed said. “That’s always a key in the playoffs. Also, our half-court defense and defensive rebounding. There are not as many fast-break points in the postseason, so you have to be ready for half-court basketball. Getting stops. The playoffs are more like a fight. There’s a lot of wrestling.”
* Portland (43-32), the Thunder’s next opponent, lost at New Orleans (43-32) on Wednesday night and is on the verge of slipping to the No. 8 seed in the West with Memphis (42-33) on its heels. Friday’s game is big for the Thunder, but bigger for the Blazers.
* The Thunder’s magic number to clinch the Northwest Division crown is now four and it is close to a certainty OKC will face Denver in the opening round of the playoffs. “We’re really not concerned with magic numbers,” Brooks said. “We just want to keep playing well.”
* The same Phoenix fan who incessantly begged Arizona State product Harden to return and play for the Suns was the same fan who also screamed for 54-year-old Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks to enter the game.
* Nick Collison played 25 minutes Wednesday after sitting out of Tuesday’s overtime victory against Golden State with a sprained left ankle. “It feels good,” Collison said afterward. “I didn’t have a lot of pain. We’ll see how it feels (Thursday), but I don’t anticipate there being a problem.”
* Sefolosha is battling a case of plantar fasciitis.
* With 4:55 left in the game and the Suns down 16, Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry instructed his team to foul Perkins on every change of possession. The tactic ended 32 seconds later after Perkins had converted 5 of 6 free throws. Perkins entered the contest having made 2 of his last 13 free-throw attempts. Asked about Gentry’s tactic, Brooks deferred. “That wasn’t my decision to make,” Brooks said. “I like the fact that Perk went up there and knocked them in.”
* Phoenix was obviously frustrated, but their behavior at the end of the game – two player ejections and refusing to acknowledge OKC afterward – caused one elderly female fan to say, “You’re embarrassing yourselves.” Then again, she could have been talking about the officiating crew.
* Brooks doesn’t present game balls. If he did, this one probably would have gone to Russell Westbrook (16 points, eight rebounds, three rebounds, two steals), despite having five turnovers. “I thought Russell was really good,” Brooks said. “I thought he showed tremendous leadership. He made the right plays. Defensively, he was active on the ball and guarding one of the best point guards in the game (Steve Nash) and he made it very tough.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.