Time To Fine Tune For Playoffs
By Randy Renner
The Thunder starting five should be back on the floor for tonight's game with New Orleans. Head coach Scott Brooks is not expected to have anyone on the shelf for this game because the starting unit has been together just three times now since Christmas.
Even though everyone in that unit is a veteran and they've all been playing together now for a few years, you'd still like to fine tune some things, like timing and communication as you get ready for what will hopefully be a long playoff run.
The Thunder come into this game on a high after knocking off the Clippers Wednesday night. L-A had been hot on the Thunder's heels for the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs but with that win the Thunder now have a three game lead on the Clips.
To catch the Thunder the Clippers would have to win their last three games and the Thunder would have to lose three of their last four.
The Thunder don't plan on letting that happen which is just another reason why Brooks is expected to go with his regular starters tonight and make sure they have the game in the bag before resting anyone.
And even then that might not happen, Brooks indicated earlier in the week he doesn't plan to sit superstar Kevin Durant for any length of time even when the Thunder's playoff position is set.
“It’s nothing that I’ve talked about and worried about. Fatigue is not an issue with our group,” Brooks said. “His minutes are right at 38 to 39 a game. During this stretch, we’ve had eight games in 12 nights so there’s some time off that we give in practice and shootaround. We’re talking 39 minutes of your day. I think he can handle that at age 25.”
No question he can even so Brooks has rested Durant and some of his other starters at the end of the regular season and I would still expect that will happen at some point probably either the Pelicans game in New Orleans on Monday or the home finale against Detroit on Wednesday.
Speaking of the Pelicans they come into this game with their wings clipped. Star center Anthony Davis will not play tonight and in fact won't play the rest of the regular season because of back spasms and guard Eric Gordon is out too and will have knee surgery next week.
Davis, named to his first All-Star team this season, was averaging 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and an NBA-best 2.8 blocks. Gordon, averaging 15.4 points, hasn't played since March 21st.
Davis sat out the only matchup with Oklahoma City this season, a 109-95 home loss December 6th, because of a broken left hand.
The Pelicans have lost six in a row overall and four straight on the road and they've lost nine straight and 13 of the last 14 against the Thunder.
Durant and Russell Westbrook are both coming off big games against the Clippers. Durant scored 27 and Westbrook had 30 to go along with 11 rebounds. Durant had one of his six career triple-doubles in the most recent visit from New Orleans which came last season, a 119-74 rout February27, 2013, with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook scored 29 that night.
The Thunder are 11-3 on Friday nights and if they can sweep their remaining four games they'll finish with a better record than last season. An amazing accomplishment considering all the injuries and uncertainties.
I'll update the blog page from shootaround later today and again just before game time tonight.
Tipoff is set for 7:10 and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.