Self-improvement is the key for the OKC Thunder

No matter the first-round playoff opponent, getting better on defense is what Scott Brooks will preach as the regular season winds down.
By John Rohde, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: April 17, 2012
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PHOENIX — Each passing day, the Thunder seems to have a different potential pairing for the opening round of the playoffs.

Will OKC open against Denver for the second straight season?

Perhaps a possible rematch against the world champion Dallas Mavericks will come in the first round rather than the Western Conference Finals.

Houston possibly awaits, and the Rockets surprisingly split their four regular-season meetings against OKC.

Utah is another first-round candidate.

The Thunder's opening playoff opponent also could be the Phoenix Suns, the team it faces Wednesday at 9 p.m. at US Airways Center.

Winners of four of their last six games, the Suns now sit as the No. 8 seed in the West. Phoenix (32-29) split with Houston 2-2 this season, but currently owns tiebreaker because of a better conference record.

The Thunder (44-17) and San Antonio (43-16) continue to jockey for the No. 1 seed, which makes Phoenix a possible opponent when the playoffs commence a week from Saturday.

Then again, the way OKC performed in the second half of Monday night's 92-77 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, the Thunder couldn't care less who it opens with in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, that's precisely how coach Scott Brooks wants his team to think.

For the last two weeks, Brooks has preached to his players that no matter who the first-round opponent turns out to be, the key to success is all about themselves.

Self-improvement is foremost for the Thunder, primarily with better defense. Brooks views this as fact, not coach-speak.

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Thunder at Phoenix

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix

TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)

Mobile: newsok.com/gameday

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

 Three things to know

* The Thunder is 2-0 against the Suns this season, with both victories coming in OKC: 107-97 on New Year's Eve and 115-104 on March 7.

* Russell Westbrook averaged 24.5 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 steals and shot 54.3 percent from the field against Phoenix the first two games.

* Westbrook, Kevin Durant (21.0), James Harden (20.0), Serge Ibaka (13.0) and Thabo Sefolosha (12.0) have averaged double-digits vs. the Suns.

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