The Thunder are currently just a game back in the loss column of the Spurs, and with a showdown coming Thursday against them, the Thunder realistically control their own destiny for the West’s top seed.
And while Scott Brooks and the players won’t say they care about a seeding — “It’s important to keep playing good basketball,” Brooks said when asked about how important the top seed is today — there is an acknowledgment that they do want to win every game left on the schedule. Whether or not that’s just a roundabout way to say they do want homecourt or if it’s just trying to stick to the organizational philosophy of development, what it means is the Thunder won’t be joining in with teams like the Spurs and Heat and sitting players. If you can play, you’ll play.
“We’ve never done that in the past,” Brooks said of sitting starters. “It’s something I haven’t even thought much about. Even the last couple of years, the last game or two, our guys still played. It doesn’t necessarily mean 40 minutes for KD or whoever we want to play, it’ll probably be a lot less. But I haven’t thought about that yet. Everything is so tight. Everybody’s still trying to fight for playoff positioning. I always feel you play your games as best you can and you try and win every game.”
What’s the reason? Because the team is young, because rest isn’t as important for them, because they’re trying to still work on things?
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Brooks said. “There’s no question we are always one of the youngest teams in the league and every minute on the court is a minute we can get better as a team and as individually. We have a lot of guys that still need to continue to improve, and they will improve.
“There are teams that can definitely use the rest that have been together for a long time, that rest is more important than playing a few minutes here and there,” he said. “But we’ll see how the games play out. I’ve always felt that at this point with our guys that’s it’s important to play.”
Kevin Martin, a veteran that obviously has a different perspective, wasn’t shy about it. He thinks the top seed is important.
“Very important, knowing you’d have homecourt advantage,” he said. “You always want to play as many games as you can on your home court and that’s what we want to get, so hopefully we end up getting it.”
Part of the problem for Brooks is if he sat someone like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook down, he might be looking at a full on mutiny. Those guys want to play.
“That would be pretty good reality TV, huh?” Brooks said of telling Westbrook he was going to sit. “As you’re all well aware, with a lot of our guys, when I sit them each half, it’s a benching. They like to play. They love to play. They love the game, they love to compete, they love to be on the floor. It could be a game we have a large lead, they want to play extra minutes. That’s what I love about our competitive spirit. But no, that’s not going to be asked of Russell.”
(Aside: I find incredibly respectable that Westbrook, and Durant for that matter, show up to play every single night. The Heat are doing what’s best for them and all power to them for it, but if you’re going to see the Thunder, you can count on seeing your favorite players on the court. I don’t think Westbrook especially gets enough credit for that.)
The Thunder have eight games left and are in a position now for that top seed. Thursday’s game might decide things for Brooks one way or the other. A loss effectively puts the Thunder in a very difficult position to take the top seed, which means he might be more comfortable just accepting No. 2.
But a win means the Thunder control their own destiny for No. 1 and it might mean he’s more interested in pushing for it. Because, you know, for all the Thunder have achieved the past few years, winning the West in the regular season isn’t one of them.