DENVER — The Oklahoma City Thunder can sleep in Thursday morning. It’s the second time they’ll get to do so on a game day this week.
There’s good reason for that.
The Thunder are in the midst of a brutal portion of the schedule. They change time zones between five consecutive games — with four of those contests making up a couple of back-to-backs. It’s hectic enough that coach Billy Donovan has decided to forego a couple of morning shootarounds, doing so before Tuesday’s eventual loss at the Washington Wizards and and before Thursday’s game at the Denver Nuggets.
“I think shootaround is kind of NBA busywork,” 15-year veteran Nick Collison said. “I think it’s probably good early in the year when you need more time together, but then sometimes, you’ve just got to be a little more fresh. These are kind of the dog days of the season.”
If January is the dog days, this week is the dog days of the dog days. After all, this isn't usual procedure for OKC.
Different teams abide by different shootaround habits. The Thunder under Donovan have been consistent. They have morning shootaround, when they go over a game plan for the evening’s opponent and walk through some potential plays, before every game — save for the second games of back-to-backs, games with a start time before 7 p.m. and some occasional holidays (like Christmas).
Tuesday was the first time in the Donovan era the Thunder have preemptively skipped shootaround for resting reasons. And they’ll do the same Thursday.
“It was almost a four-hour flight last night,” Donovan said of the trip from Washington to Denver. “Then, being able to get some extra added rest the day of the game. All those decisions about the non-shootarounds has more to do with what kind of physical impact and toll it has on guys…Preparation is really important, but we also want to make sure they’re fresh.”
The Thunder have to find different ways to prepare in these situations. Donovan still goes through his same routines, obsessively studying film. The Thunder tossed in an extra film session following Wednesday’s practice in Denver, as well. They will find time to go over last-minute prep before the Nuggets game.
Certainly, experience comes into play. The Thunder had one of the NBA’s youngest rosters a year ago. This season, they’re filled with veterans like Carmelo Anthony, Nick Collison, Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson, Paul George and others. They’re certainly not on the antique side — but they also won’t be the youngest team in the postseason, as they were in 2017.
“I’ve played 300, 400 games,” George said. “Same preparation.”
The Thunder went from Detroit (EST) on Saturday to Oklahoma City (CST) on Sunday to Washington (EST) for a Tuesday game to Denver (MST) for a Thursday one. They will return to Oklahoma for a Friday finisher against the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s almost impossible to imagine they’ll be spry come that game. It would be one of the more understandable losses of the season if the Thunder were to fall on the end of this stretch, the second night of a back-to-back after losing an hour on the flight back. And keep in mind, Thursday’s game at the Nuggets is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. CST.
Of course, Collison has seen crazier than a victory under those conditions.
“I’ve been in the league long enough to know sometimes you think the schedule is going to be a problem, and you play great. Sometimes, you have all the reason to play great, and you play bad,” he said. “So, I don’t know. I think you just go with what you got coming out.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.