Thunder Head To Phoenix Feelin' Good
By Randy Renner
Nothing like flying out of winter straight into summer and that's just what the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing today.
It will be 40 to 45 degrees warmer in Phoenix when the team lands than in Oklahoma City when their charter flight takes off.
Everyone's dispositions are a little sunnier now too. A few days ago the Thunder were mired in a three game home losing streak for the first time since the first season of Thunder basketball.
Now they're riding a three game winning streak even though defensive stalwarts Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are hurt and out for at least another month.
Last night The Thunder locked down the Philadelphia 76ers, limiting them to just 34 percent shooting, the lowest by opponent this season.
"We put an emphasis on just going back to the basics and just talking the defense out," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said in explaining why the defense is better now than a few games ago.
"I think you have stretches in any NBA season when you kinda have some slippage and we had that on the defensive end just in the communication with one another."
Talk may be cheap but when it comes to playing quality defense it's a very valuable thing.
"It's so important, if you talk your defense, you're able to defend much better."
The Thunder will need to play defense Thursday night against a Suns team that has been rolling for much of the season and right now is right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
"I think Coach (Jeff) Hornacek has done a great job of implementing a winning culture. You can tell just look at them on film now they expect to win and there's a lot to be said about that."
Brooks had to do a lot of that with the Thunder the first couple of years he was in charge so he knows what he's talking about.
"You have to give yourself a chance by believing that you can compete every night and they've done that, they've been pretty consistent all year long."
New Thunder swingman Caron Butler will be making his first road trip with his new team and no matter how many games he plays in Oklahoma City he will always remember the rousing welcome fans gave him Tuesday night when he was introduced into a game for the first time as a member of the home team.
"I was in awe," he said today remembering the moment. "I was trying to gather my thoughts and I have to say for just the second time in my career I was actually nervous, like oh wow my first shot might go over the backboard or something. But it felt really good."
Butler also credited chatting things up on defense with bringing out the fire on that end of the floor.
"Just talking, knowing that those other guys have your back."
And Butler's first game as a member of the Thunder will also be memorable for what he saw from new teammate Russell Westbrook who seemingly charged to a triple-double in the blink of an eye.
"You know you see certain guys that whatever "it" is, they got it? Well he's one of those guys that got it," he said.
"I saw when I came in (last night) the way he was getting focused and dialed in for that game and then for our mission moving forward, he's dialed in, he's ready and he's definitely healthy."
Yep, everything's a little sunnier now in Oklahoma City, even on a cloudy, cold day.