HOUSTON — Allen Iverson might disagree, but what the Thunder really needs right now is practice.
Yeah, we're talkin' about practice.
In its five-year existence, the OKC franchise has now played exactly one game without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.
On Saturday, Westbrook had season-ending knee surgery in Vail, Colo., which ended his NBA streak of 439 consecutive regular-season and post-season games.
Later that same day, Westbrook's teammates survived with a 104-101 victory on the road to take a 3-0 playoff series lead against the Houston Rockets.
The Thunder can advance to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs with a Game 4 victory at 8:30 p.m. on Monday at Toyota Center.
Completing the sweep would give OKC some much-needed practice time to figure out how life is supposed to operate without Westbrook.
The Thunder would play the winner of a Los Angeles Clippers-Memphis Grizzlies series, which could go the full seven games. If such a scenario were to happen, OKC would have eight days to practice before its next game.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks stressed his team was only thinking about its next game and not about completing a sweep — which in this instance is the exact same thing.
Brooks was asked which was more important for his team right now, practice time or playing time?
“The combination is pretty important, but if I had to pick one or the other, practice time is always important when you have to make adjustments on the fly,” Brooks said. “But it's not an excuse. We have players that can make adjustments on the fly. We do it all the time in a game. We make adjustments, but practice time is always good for our team.”
Thunder veteran reserve guard Derek Fisher said a sweep would be beneficial even if Westbrook were healthy and still available.
“In all my experience over the years, that's always been a positive,” said Fisher, the NBA's active leader with 232 career postseason games. “The more days you can get without a game is advantageous for you in the long run. It's not only more practice days, it's rest days for certain guys, physically better for certain guys. And as the series gets tougher and the games get more physical, first round, second round, third round, hopefully the NBA Finals, those days of rest, they pay off for you in the end.”
Three-time scoring champ and four-time All-Star Kevin Durant played all but 44 seconds of Game 3, often assuming Westbrook's role at the point en route to tying a career playoff high of 41 points and adding 14 rebounds.
“It would be great, of course, to get a sweep,” Durant said Sunday, “but we know how tough it is to close out a series. We know it's going to be the toughest game of the series (Monday). They're just going to come out there and play freely. That's what they've been doing. They're going to try to take it back to OKC (for Game 5 on Wednesday).”
Predictably, every person interviewed before Sunday's practice at Rice's Tudor Fieldhouse refused to get carried away about the possibility of a sweep.
“For us right now, it's not about looking ahead,” Fisher said. “But when you have an opportunity to close a team out, it's important to find a way to do so. It's the NBA. The Rockets are not going to quit. So it'll be up to us to find a way to win the game and beat them and not expect them to walk out on the court and lay down.”