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Oklahoma City one step away

Youthful Thunder look to vet Fisher

By Jeff Latzke
Associated Press / June 11, 2012
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OKLAHOMA CITY - When the Oklahoma City Thunder signed five-time champion Derek Fisher late in the season, they added a veteran guard with oodles more NBA Finals experience than the rest of the roster he was joining.

Whether Fisher can prepare his Thunder teammates for what they’re about to face is another matter.

While the Miami Heat are returning for the second straight season, it’ll be an eye-opening, first-time experience for most of Oklahoma City’s youthful players. Only Fisher, starting center Kendrick Perkins, and backup Nazr Mohammed have ever made it this far - all winning titles with other teams.

But for all the leadership Fisher has provided since joining the Thunder in late March, he doesn’t plan any lectures for the team’s younger set that includes three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

“With my experience, I’ve found it better to on some level allow guys to experience things for themselves in its natural state,’’ Fisher said. “You can’t always tell someone what they should feel or what they should be thinking as they get ready to go into what may be the biggest moment of their life or their career.

“I think it’s important to allow people to be who they are and experience it the way they naturally would.’’

The Finals are sure to disrupt some parts of the Thunder’s routine. Their practices will be uprooted from their brand new training facility on the north side of town and instead held downtown at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the Heat will also work out. They’ll be surrounded by tons of additional media members.

Not so easy for some to handle, Fisher said, are the heightened emotions that come with playing for a championship. It could be anxiety, tension, or excitement. Some players might not be able to sleep.

“The bottom line is on the basketball court everybody feels comfortable,’’ said coach Scott Brooks, a reserve on Houston’s 1994 NBA championship team. “Everybody will have nerves, nervous butterflies, before the game . . . You’re always nervous before the games until the tipoff. As a coach, I’m the same way. As a player, I was the same way. But that’s part of it.’’

Brooks even considers the nerves to be good, a sign that players care.

“Once the tipoff is in the air, our players aren’t going to get nervous,’’ he said. “Once that ball is in the air and they’re ready to play, they’re going to fly around the court, they’re going to be aggressive, and they’re going to play good basketball.’’

Westbrook said Sunday the fact that he’s in the Finals probably won’t settle in until he’s playing in Game 1 on Tuesday night at home.

“I’m kind of just going with the flow right now,’’ Westbrook said.

Seeking redemption for last year’s loss to Dallas, Miami’s roster should be aware of what’s to come. The lion’s share of the team is back from last season, and Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem were both on the 2006 squad that won it all. LeBron James will be making his third finals appearance, including one with Cleveland.

“It’s been a long 12 months. But obviously when you lose in the Finals, it hurts,’’ Wade said.

Perkins - who won the title with Boston in 2008 - said he sensed growth in the Thunder’s 20-somethings over the course of the season. He believes “guys knew what it takes to get where we needed to go.’’

There’s only one step left.

“You can’t hide the fact that we have a young team, but that’s never been an excuse for us and we don’t look at it as one,’’ Brooks said. “Young is good. I wish I was younger.’’

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