Thunder loose, but focused, in playoff preparations
The Oklahoma City Thunder is having fun while preparing for Sunday's playoff opener against the Denver Nuggets, but make no mistake — this team is focused.
If the Thunder felt any pressure from going into this year's playoffs with home-court advantage or heightened expectations, you couldn't tell from Friday's practice.
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A 3-point shootout broke out just before the end of the session.
The two contestants were centers Kendrick Perkins and Cole Aldrich.
And as the two big men took turns tossing up treys from the top of the key, the rest of the roster stood by in stitches, half the team pulling for the rookie, the other half riding with the vet. For what it's worth, Perkins won, shattering Aldrich's three out of 10 makes by stepping up and swishing a surprising six shots.
Two days before embarking on the biggest game of the year, an all-too important Game 1 of a best-of-seven series with Denver, the Thunder remains as easy-going as ever.
“We always have fun here,” said Kevin Durant. “That's what makes everything go is fun.”
But make no mistake: The Thunder is focused. That part of the program, though, plays out behind closed doors.
“Before you guys got here we were all business,” Durant said Friday while addressing the largest media contingent to attend a practice this season. “We were throwing balls at each other, shoving each other, getting better.”
The challenges facing Oklahoma City this year could potentially pack more pressure than last year's inaugural playoff experience against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Thunder is no longer just happy to be here. The house money with which OKC played a year ago has been taken off the table.
Now, the Thunder is widely expected to win, not only in its first-round series against the Nuggets, which starts Sunday, but also against potential second-round foe, the San Antonio Spurs. Some even project the Thunder to get past the second round and make it to the Western Conference Finals.
And it's not hard to find a few who have the Thunder going a step further than that.
“This year, people are putting pressure on us,” Durant said. “We can't worry about that.
“If we play our game we'll be fine. We just got to be prepared and focused every day going into these next few games and see what happens. If we play the right way, if we play together and play defense, anything can happen for us.”