One more day.
The Oklahoma City, after an unexpectedly brutal 5 1/2-month offseason, finally gets back to business in just one more day.
The season opener is Wednesday at Utah — how that happens remains a mystery — and by the time the Thunder takes the court it will have had six days to prepare for not just Game 1, but also the start of what is sure to be a grueling 82-game season.
“We've put in a lot of work, and we're all just excited to start,” said Kevin Durant. “We're looking forward to our first game and trying to start this thing off right.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he put his team through one final tough practice Monday, with the hope that it would reinforce the team's core tenets.
“We wanted to really continue to put our identity in place and that is to play physical, tough-minded basketball,” Brooks said.
The session included drills, a lot of drills, Brooks said, that demanded aggressive play on both ends of the floor.
“And our guys responded,” he said.
Tuesday's final session will be a lighter practice, Brooks said. But emphasizing the team's identity, even if it's well-established, was something Brooks considers critical.
“I think it's something that you can never take for granted,” Brooks said. “You always have to throw it on the floor. We take pride in how we play. We've had a good identity the last five years. But I think our guys have to understand that we can never relax. That's how we have to play. We have to play a tough-minded basketball game.”
And play hard. And not take nights off.
Those are the things that, if done well, could keep the Thunder afloat while point guard Russell Westbrook recovers from knee surgery.
Beyond that, the Thunder spent all of training camp and the preseason focusing on three key elements that will enhance the offense and defense: rebounding, spacing and ball movement.
OKC showed glimpses of growth in each of those three areas in its seven exhibition games. When the Thunder was at its best, the ball swung quickly from player to player, leading to quality shot attempts, and the team closed out defensive possessions with rebounds.
The key now is carrying it over.
“Repetition is going to help us, throughout a game, throughout the season, every day,” said Durant. “We might get tired of the same things, but if we continue to do it, then it's going to be natural for us. I think that's what the coaches are doing a great job of every day, just making sure we know the basics.”
Brooks was again noncommittal Monday when asked about his rotation. In recent days, Brooks said he had not yet decided on a backup center, presumably between Hasheem Thabeet and rookie Steven Adams. On Monday, Brooks said his starting five wasn't even set in stone.
“No. Even the first game, everything is still fluid,” Brooks said. “You still have to continue to play hard and well. And my job is to try to find the best players and the best combinations of players on the floor, whether it's the starters or the guys coming off the bench. Even the guys that won't play the first so many games, they have to stay ready because nothing's set.”