Still in limbo, Oklahoma City Thunder crank it up in practice

Posted May 09, 2012, at 10:49 p.m.
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder plays in Game 4 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
Ron Jenkins | MCT
Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder plays in Game 4 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, May 5, 2012.

OKLAHOMA CITY — When the task of practicing over and over again gets monotonous, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks has his ways of trying to spice it up and get his players’ attention again.

Even then, he figures the Thunder — who have had remarkably little turnover for the past two seasons — know what he’s up to.

During a weeklong wait between playoff games, Brooks has the challenge of keeping three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and Co. sharp until their Western Conference semifinals opponent is determined — and that means keeping practices from getting stale.

“That’s the art of coaching. You have a lot of games in a season. You have to make it fresh,” Brooks said after Wednesday’s practice. “Sometimes, you have to say the same things over a thousand different ways.

“You have to be able to, at times, trick the players into thinking that this is most important drill of that afternoon. They’re used to that because we say that throughout the practice, and then by the time the practice is over, they’ve had about seven ‘most important’ drills that they’ve been through.”

Brooks mixed it up Wednesday, putting his players through a physically demanding session that featured three 5-on-5 scrimmages with 8-minute quarters in addition to some 4-on-4 work and other drills. It was a step up in intensity after the Thunder returned to the court Tuesday following a day off Sunday and an optional workout Monday.

“It was a great day. The guys really competed and they were spent after practice, which that’s what wanted,” Brooks said. “We wanted today to be a very tough, physical practice and it was. They were good for an hour and a half and they gave everything they had.”

The layoff is the longest of the lockout-condensed season for Oklahoma City. The Thunder haven’t played since finishing off a four-game sweep of Dallas on Saturday, and they won’t start the next round until at least Saturday — and possibly as late as next Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Lakers lead their series with the Denver Nuggets 3-2, with the winner advancing to face Oklahoma City.

Having back-to-back practices and more to come in the next few days is like nothing that’s happened all season, when the team’s only break longer than three days came when everyone parted ways over All-Star weekend.

“It’s been a long time,” power forward Serge Ibaka said. “Right now, we feel like we’re back again in training camp and we’re enjoying it.”

Nick Collison wanted to get up extra shots after he didn’t take many in Round 1. For Nazr Mohammed, it was a chance to just get out and play after his playing time was cut back because of a poor matchup against the Mavs.

“We haven’t had much time for practice this year, and we’ve had two really good practices. With this schedule, it’s really unique to have six, seven days off but we’re making the most of it — getting good practice in but also still being able to mix in recovery days so you don’t feel like you’re pushing too hard and worried about losing your legs,” Collison said.

Perhaps the best part of the time between games has been added recovery time for starting center Kendrick Perkins, who left in the first quarter of Saturday’s game with a strained muscle in his right hip. He has missed both practice sessions while getting treatment and is still considered day to day.

Brooks planned a lighter session Thursday to let his players recover.

“It’s always good to get some time off because you can rest and everybody has aches and pains when you go through a season — any season, not just this short season this year,” Brooks said. “Just any season, it’s always a physical grind on your body.”

It’s not just keeping his team’s bodies in the right shape, though. Brooks also wants to keep his players mentally engaged, and he’s figured out a simple way to get the most out of them.

“Any time we put a scoreboard into the game, it raises up the competition. We do that with a lot of things,” he said, listing off everything from full scrimmages to free throws.

“Any time you put a point system in it, our guys are going to get after each other.”

So far, Brooks hasn’t sensed any monotony creeping in as the Thunder continue their waiting game.

“Right now, I haven’t experienced that with our group. Maybe in a couple more days, we might,” he said. “I think our last two practices were high-energy practices. The energy level was outstanding. The competition was very high. … They haven’t given me any indication that they’re bored.”

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