OAKLAND, Calif. — No need to rely on faux injuries for the Thunder to take nights off.
Rather than rest up as this regular season snakes to an end, as teams like the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are doing, Oklahoma City has one goal.
“All season we've been trying to take advantage of each game as an opportunity to get better,” said Nick Collison. “We've had a few games where we didn't do that. We didn't play well and get better. But for the most part I think we've seen improvement, and we've got four more opportunities to try to get good habits going into the playoffs.”
The schedule has helped.
Yet another tough test is on deck Thursday night when the Thunder faces Golden State inside Oracle Arena. It will be the fifth straight of its kind to start the month of April.
Like all four OKC opponents before them, the Warriors will walk into their game against the Thunder rolling and playing for a purpose. Golden State has been busy fighting off Houston to stay in sixth place. The Warriors are a game ahead of the Rockets and have won eight of 11.
On Tuesday, the Thunder played a road game at Utah against a Jazz team fighting the Lakers for the eighth and final seed. Utah entered that game having won seven of eight.
On Sunday, the Thunder hosted New York, which had won 11 straight going into the showdown, was riding a scorching Carmelo Anthony and was looking to secure its first 50 win season since the 1999-2000 season while also staying in second place in the East standings.
The two games prior to that were a back-to-back set against San Antonio in OKC and a road game at Indiana. The Spurs were battling with the Thunder for the top spot in the West, while the Pacers had won five straight and eight of nine going into the matchup and was playing for its first Central Division title in nine years.
“Anytime you're playing against good teams in April it's always going to get you ready for the playoffs,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It doesn't guarantee you're going to have success but it keeps your mind focused on doing well because if you don't play with high intensity against some of the best teams you're not going to have success. And we take pride in playing well against every team. And we know in this home stretch of games we're going to have to play well to make every game competitive.”
So far, the Thunder has been more than competitive.
Oklahoma City has gone 3-1 in the first four games of this month and, despite the difficulty of the schedule, has made things look rather easy. In those three wins — against the Spurs, Pacers and Jazz — the Thunder limited its opponents to an average of 81 points on 38.9 percent shooting. OKC out-rebounded those teams 146-118, which included a 34-26 advantage on the offensive end.
“I think we did a really good job,” said Kevin Durant. “The game against New York was tough. Those guys are hot, really hot, right now and we made it a game. But throughout the last four games I think we played very, very well and we got to continue to build on that.”
Oklahoma City lost its last game at Golden State, and with the way the Warriors are playing, coupled with what they have to play for, the Thunder can do only one thing to prepare for Thursday's game.
“These are high energized, intensity-driven games,” Brooks said. “And going forward it's going to be the same thing.”