- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Seven months ago, Thunder players and coaches were trickling back into Oklahoma City one-by-one, getting into town to kick-start training camp. Each day they’ve come to work with the type of grit, tenacity and relentlessness that would make Thunder fans proud. Tonight, it’s 82-game season comes to an end, but the second season, the postseason, is only just about to begin.
Tonight Head Coach Billy Donovan and his staff will put their players through one final test before the playoffs begin, a battle with the Denver Nuggets, who the Thunder defeated just three days ago in the Pepsi Center. Although this game won’t have implications in the standings, it’s still an opportunity to go out and play the right way, give the Thunder fans a show and celebrate a great 2016-17 season.
“Anytime you come out of a game there is always some kind of effect. You either played poorly or you played well, you’re either getting better or not getting better,” Donovan explained. “We always want to talk about getting better.”
“Hopefully the last game, (tonight), it’s a back to-back, hopefully we can come out and play consistently at a high level going into the playoffs,” Donovan continued.
All season long the Thunder has been working on playing to an identity and style when Russell Westbrook is off the court, and against the Minnesota Timberwolves Donovan had its first chance to see what that looked like for 48 minutes. The starters alone racked up 16 assists, Victor Oladipo, Semaj Christon and Norris Cole ran the offense to get teammates involved and in the end, the young playmaker Oladipo knocked down a 21-foot game-winner.
“(Oladipo) is not afraid of taking a big shot and making a big shot,” Donovan said. “I feel good about him at the end of games if we can have two options to make reads on.”
While a few Thunder players rested in Minnesota and some players may rest again tonight at home against Denver, the Thunder did get one rotation player back into the mix on Tuesday night. Alex Abrines came in and knocked down both of his three-point attempts after missing three games with a sprained knee.
“(Abrines) did a really nice job. We got him some good quality minutes. He came into the game and shot the ball very well,” Donovan said. “He gave us a good boost off the bench. He did some really good things on offense and defense. It was encouraging to have him back and playing the way he did.”
The Thunder will need all hands on deck come the weekend, when its first round playoff series in Houston against the Rockets ignites. Many players on the roster have never experienced the postseason before. Some, like Steven Adams, have been through countless wars with veteran foes. He, amongst other leaders, will be vital in preparing the Thunder for the task that lays ahead.
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“The main thing is being locked in and having a passion for playoffs. Not taking it for granted, as in not taking it like a regular season game. It’s 100 percent not. It’s completely different,” center Steven Adams said. “Players play totally different when they’re in the playoffs. Then it comes down to your mentality and how much focus you can have throughout the game.”
“We have to get better. We have to utilize this time. We’re either moving one direction or the other,” Donovan said. “There are some things we can learn from, and you never know what can happen in the playoffs. Foul trouble, injury, something can happen, so all these games are important.”