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Can Thunder bring urgency into final week of regular season?

Billy Donovan's moves mean more than he lets on. The Thunder coach likes to say a tweak or a rotation change is about a specific matchup. It’s often more, a not-so-subtle foreshawdowing of what’s needed by his team beyond just one night.

It’s Jerami Grant taking over for Patrick Patterson four games into the season. It’s Raymond Felton being reinserted into the rotation with a week to go before the playoffs.

These aren’t accidental occurrences, nor are they indictments of a specific player. It’s Donovan’s way of jolting the nervous system of a team that too often goes into stasis on both ends.

When the Thunder plays with urgency, it plays a brand of basketball people get excited about, a brand in which people invest playoff hopes.

It plays the way it did on Friday against the Pistons in a 123-110 win.

“I think coming into the home stretch, every team that’s in the position we’re in – to have a chance to play in the playoffs – is playing with urgency,” Donovan said last week after the Thunder struggled to put away the LeBron James-less Lakers.

That was in serious question until Friday.

Now, the Thunder suddenly finds itself in an unfathomable position considering how poorly it’s been playing in the Western Conference. With a winnable game against Minnesota on Sunday (2:30, ABC), the Thunder is a half-game behind the Clippers for the No. 6 seed.

“Winnable” has become a deceptive term; OKC is a week removed from losing to the lottery-bound Mavericks. But the Thunder did everything possible Friday to potentially reel back in those followers who have grown disillusioned with OKC’s playoff chances.

“It was great,” Thunder guard Dennis Schroder said of the team’s urgency Friday. “I think everybody was pushing the ball. Whoever got (the ball) got into drags (utilizing screens on the fast break), pick and rolls, and that’s what we’ve got to do to move forward and be successful, even in the playoffs.”

It’s no mistake the Thunder’s most charged-up game post-All-Star break came with a charged-up Schroder. Like earlier in the season in a thrashing of Golden State, Russell Westbrook got off the ball early, allowing Schroder to get additional touches.

From the onset Friday, the Thunder had a Schroder who was locked in and played with fire on both ends. Donovan said he’s always tried to express to Schroder the need to compete.

“It’s hard when your entire career the ball has been in your hands and now you’re in a sharing situation,” Donovan said. “I think Russell is always looking to try to utilize everyone on the team to their strength and their talent. Dennis has a great internal belief and it was good to see him come out there and compete the way he did.

“You’re gonna miss shots, but he’s got the ability to compete and make things happen.”

Effort and competing is commonly associated with defense, but it also applies to offense.

Since the Thunder isn’t an elite shooting team from any level – 21st in field goal percentage within five feet of the rim, 24th from the mid-range, 23rd from 3-point range – it has had to lean heavily on defense to shrink the margin of error all season.

Shooting well and spacing the floor from 3 is a major component of the equation, but not the entire solution. Yes, the Thunder’s best run of results – a stretch of 11 wins in 12 games – came with OKC making 38 percent or more of its 3-pointers in every game from Jan. 19 to Feb. 11. But the Thunder also lost three of four games in early January in which it shot 40 percent of better from 3 in each contest.

What’s paramount is competing and playing to the identity of the team – not letting the offensive issues compound on the defensive end, then taking the success from defense and applying it with intent on offense.

It’s all connected.

“One thing that helps urgency is getting stops,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s easy to talk about but it’s hard to do when you’re taking the ball out of the net.”

Casey said you can preach urgency on the offensive end, but there still work to be done, from players cutting away from the ball, to delivering screens to free up ballhandlers coming up the floor.

“Once you get it across halfcourt, what’s your plan? Do you get it in an early post-up? Do you get it in an early drag (screen)? What are you going to do once you get it across there?” Casey said.

The Thunder’s defense hasn’t been awful since the break – ninth in the NBA points allowed per 100 possessions, better than seven other current playoff qualifiers. It’s been good enough to give its offense a chance, certainly better than the 106.9 points per 100 possessions the Thunder has scored in its last 22 games, 27th in the NBA.

The Thunder has to lock in when it gets there. If it proves incapable, that’s a problem general manager Sam Presti will have to fix in the offseason. Some will argue with the injury status of Andre Roberson and Alex Abrines’s leave from the team, Presti could have poured more effort into fixing the Thunder’s wing situation. The team made a run at Indiana’s Wesley Matthews in free agency, but the move didn’t happen.

Regardless of the composition of the Thunder’s roster, if it doesn’t take the games seriously, it can’t win. Sunday will be the latest test against a 36-43 Minnesota team which is 3-0 against OKC this season.

It’s why Donovan calls on the 34-year-old Felton. If the Thunder has to rely on Felton as a 12-minute per game spark in the playoffs, it’s in trouble.

But what you see is what you get with Felton, and him focusing on the objective is never in question.

*********************************

THUNDER AT TIMBERWOLVES

When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis

TV: ABC (KOCO;;Cox 8 / HD 705, Dish 5, DirecTV 5, U-verse 5 / 1005)

Radio: WWLS-AM 640 / 98.1 FM

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant, right, celebrates making a 3-point shot during Friday's win over Detroit. After struggling over the last month, the Thunder played one of its best games of the season against the Pistons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant, right, celebrates making a 3-point shot during Friday's win over Detroit. After struggling over the last month, the Thunder played one of its best games of the season against the Pistons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-da204fe3fc3bf90ffa6587d9d1340a66.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant, right, celebrates making a 3-point shot during Friday's win over Detroit. After struggling over the last month, the Thunder played one of its best games of the season against the Pistons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant, right, celebrates making a 3-point shot during Friday's win over Detroit. After struggling over the last month, the Thunder played one of its best games of the season against the Pistons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant, right, celebrates making a 3-point shot during Friday's win over Detroit. After struggling over the last month, the Thunder played one of its best games of the season against the Pistons. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-71e5cb6e7283f6325b59bd5372e4a5bd.jpg" alt="Photo - Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) works against Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) works against Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) works against Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2c0ff9cac8a3b04d1705753681e3c335.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) dunks the ball in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) dunks the ball in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) dunks the ball in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0ec02763928ec3d72fc6859d7a23c69f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Wayne Ellington (20) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Wayne Ellington (20) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Wayne Ellington (20) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b31693f89e49cd357083e93b721401cf.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) goes to the basket next to Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) goes to the basket next to Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) goes to the basket next to Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-52c119d53200850390c37cc82337808f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) reacts after making a three-point shot in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) reacts after making a three-point shot in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Jerami Grant (9) reacts after making a three-point shot in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b9a559b848a5cd94dc24869c9a255a26.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) dunks the ball after receiving a pass from Russell Westbrook, not pictured, in front of Jerami Grant (9) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) dunks the ball after receiving a pass from Russell Westbrook, not pictured, in front of Jerami Grant (9) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) dunks the ball after receiving a pass from Russell Westbrook, not pictured, in front of Jerami Grant (9) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7884e70f4d9131edd531edbd17490a68.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) passes away from Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) and Andre Drummond (0) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) passes away from Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) and Andre Drummond (0) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Steven Adams (12) passes away from Detroit's Bruce Brown (6) and Andre Drummond (0) in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-335cb2207f0f2c211f8572f742f7b7d3.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5) shoots between Detroit's Ish Smith (14), left, and Thon Maker (7) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5) shoots between Detroit's Ish Smith (14), left, and Thon Maker (7) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5) shoots between Detroit's Ish Smith (14), left, and Thon Maker (7) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7284b08af5ff215487ed0b1a1c5d051b.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0), left, and Steven Adams (12) slap hands after a dunk by Adams with an assist from Westbrook in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0), left, and Steven Adams (12) slap hands after a dunk by Adams with an assist from Westbrook in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0), left, and Steven Adams (12) slap hands after a dunk by Adams with an assist from Westbrook in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ca5207e3829d95eb8fd3adcf4c5f30c8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5), back right, tries to steal the ball from Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5), back right, tries to steal the ball from Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Markieff Morris (5), back right, tries to steal the ball from Detroit's Blake Griffin (23) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b696a6cde1b4e8e7d5e7bf65eeb61760.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) tries to get to the basket past Detroit's Thon Maker (7), right, and Ish Smith (14) in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) tries to get to the basket past Detroit's Thon Maker (7), right, and Ish Smith (14) in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) tries to get to the basket past Detroit's Thon Maker (7), right, and Ish Smith (14) in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-298e42eed9ecabc97d6f9158ccc815c2.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Nerlens Noel (3) passes away from Detroit's Zaza Pachulia (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Nerlens Noel (3) passes away from Detroit's Zaza Pachulia (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Nerlens Noel (3) passes away from Detroit's Zaza Pachulia (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-661488d82ffdb368be41893e2a808e33.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) holds the ball as Detroit's Ish Smith (14) defends in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) holds the ball as Detroit's Ish Smith (14) defends in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder (17) holds the ball as Detroit's Ish Smith (14) defends in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-09d324c9061bb8de9bd2a6dda4b4da43.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Langston Galloway (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Langston Galloway (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) shoots over Detroit's Langston Galloway (9) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7bf337ecdba8091e81506d4011cc1053.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan, right, talks to official James Capers in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan, right, talks to official James Capers in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan, right, talks to official James Capers in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 5, 2019. Oklahoma City won 123-110. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›

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