Championship contenders don't celebrate playoff berths.
But to see how nonchalant Oklahoma City Thunder players and coaches were after the team officially clinched with a win over Chicago on Sunday still came as a bit of a surprise. The subdued reaction represented another example of how fast the franchise has emerged as one of the NBA's elite.
Just two years ago, the Thunder was the eighth seed, happy to simply be a part of the playoff party after a 23-win season the year before. Fans celebrated. Confetti rained down from the rafters. It was all new and a big deal.
This year, Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't even know his team had clinched until Monday morning despite Sunday's noon tip-off concluding before 3 p.m.
“It's not out of arrogance,” Brooks explained. “We just do our job … and we all want to do it and do it every day. And we're excited about doing it. But we don't put the standings on the board and say, ‘We got a one-game lead or a two-game lead or whatever.' We always just focus on each game.
“It's great to clinch a playoff spot, but we want to keep getting better. We've got three weeks to keep improving.”
DAEQUAN COOK EAGER TO HELP
Guard Daequan Cook on Monday was cleared to play after spraining his right knee late in a game at Utah on March 20. Although he did not get any minutes against Memphis, Cook said he's ready to return to the lineup.
“I feel good,” Cook said. “It's been a while, but I feel real good and I'm ready to get back to playing.”
Cook said he's not concerned about having to regain his rhythm because he had been rigorously working out with a knee brace supporting his knee. It's unclear when, how or even if Brooks will integrate Cook back into the rotation, but Cook expressed his eagerness to help.
“I just want to get out there whenever coach calls my name and do whatever I have to do to help the team win,” Cook said. “That's what it's all about right now.”
SEARCHING FOR MINUTES FOR SEFOLOSHA
In each of the previous two games, Brooks has reinserted Thabo Sefolosha at the start of the second quarter to play with the second unit. It's something Brooks has rarely, if ever, done this season.
“It just gives me a way to put one of the best defenders in the league on the floor more,” Brooks explained. “James (Harden) is playing so well. That's the dilemma that I have every night, because James is playing well and Thabo is the best defender on our team and maybe in the league at the perimeter spot. It allows us to have a good defender and a good playmaker in James.”
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE
The Thunder is 11-1 after a loss this season. The lone losing streak came when the Thunder lost to Dallas and Portland in the sixth and seventh games of the season, respectively, on Jan. 2 and 3.
Miami, meanwhile, enters Tuesday's games with the league's best home record at 21-2. Both of the Heat's home losses came back in January, the first against Atlanta on Jan. 2 and the other coming against Milwaukee on Jan. 22.
Prior to facing Philadelphia at American Airlines Arena on Tuesday night, the Heat had won 15 straight at home.
“We bounce back, especially on the road,” said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. “It'll be a big test for us.”
The NBA on Tuesday kicked off NBA Green Week, a program which began in 2009 and is designed to generate awareness and funding to protect the environment. NBA Green Week will run through April 11. As part of the campaign, every player will wear 100 percent organic cotton NBA Green shooting shirts as part of their warm-ups, while also being outfitted with NBA Green headbands and wristbands made from 45 percent organic cotton. Throughout the week, teams and players also will participate in community projects, recycling missions and team-organized auctions. … Following the loss to the Grizzlies, the Thunder fell to 5-10 when trailing after three quarters. Oklahoma City is 33-2 when leading after three quarters. … The Thunder is 11-3 against Eastern Conference teams this season.
The Thunder begins a two-game road trip Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. game at Miami. Oklahoma City will then travel to Indianapolis to face the Pacers on Friday.