By Randy Renner
Coming off a long road trip and a stretch of three games in four nights and then a high-pressure home game with the rival Rockets Thunder head coach Billy Donovan took the extraordinary step of actually closing the team’s practice facility on Saturday.
Thunder players, coaches and staff have a reputation for being at the facility “all the time.” Former coach Scott Brooks would sometimes say he almost had to kick guys out to get them to either go home and rest or at least do something other than basketball for a day.
Donovan was taking no chances on Saturday, feeling it was important his team spent some time away from the office.
“These guys have put a lot in lately and it’s been physically and mentally challenging for them. So I think giving them a full, fresh day to get re-charged and rejuvenated and have us come back refocused and try to get better in some areas was maybe the best way to go.”
And did it work?
“Hopefully it worked,” he said. “They seemed pretty enthusiastic this morning when they came in to get their work in and I thought we had a good day.”
The day was made even better when Thunder backup point guard Cameron Payne, out for almost a week with a concussion, was able to participate in part of practice and could be back in the lineup as soon as Monday night against Washington.
“He’s progressing really, really well,” Donovan told reporters after Sunday’s practice.
“He did some things today in practice. We didn’t have a lot of contact but he was out there. The big test will be at (Monday’s) shoot-around to see how much further he’s progressed and then we’ll probably have a definitive answer,” about whether Payne can play against the Wizards.
So sounds like at least the possibility is there of the rookie getting back to action if not Monday then probably for sure on Wednesday night against Orlando.
While Payne has been out veteran D.J. Augustin has returned to the role he’s had since coming to the Thunder in the Reggie Jackson trade last season.
“During the course of a season, everybody deals with injuries,” Donovan said, “and here’s a guy like D.J. who’s out here working, he stays in the gym all the time and I give all our guys credit for keeping themselves ready.”
Shooting guard Andre Roberson continues on the shelf recovering from a sprained right knee. That’s forced changes to both the starting lineup and rotations.
Dion Waiters has started the last three games and has stepped up big time. Waiters is averaging 15.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting overall and 57.1 percent (8-for-14) on threes.
“He’s been very efficient offensively,” Donovan said but he seemed more impressed with how Waiters has handled things at the other end of the floor where his defense has also been pretty solid.
“I think Dion’s done a good job of replacing Andre’s defense and he’s had some tough matchups going up against (Arron) Afflalo, and then having to deal with (Andrew) Wiggins and then having to come back and guard (James) Harden, so he’s had some great challenges against some really good players who are very, very offensively gifted.”
Waiters tends to get bad rap at times, which has certainly been deserved over the years, for his shot selection, hot-dogging and at least appearing not to care much about defense.
Donovan has certainly seen some of that this season but he’s seen a much different side to Waiters as well.
“He’s a guy who can do a lot of different things. People look at his non-paint twos, those step-back jump shots but there’s a lot more to his game. He can defend, he handles the ball well, he can pass it, he can get into the lane. He does a lot of different things and I think defense is certainly one of those things where he can bring value to our team.”