OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Sixers are not exactly catching the Thunder at an ideal time. The Northwest Division leaders had their 12-game home winning streak snapped two nights ago when Brooklyn beat them at Chesapeake Arena by 17. It was only their second opponent all season that shot 50 percent or better against them.
The Sixers know OKC will be looking to make amends.
They are going to want to come out here and bury us from the beginning, Jason Richardson said. We have to be ready for their first wave of attack. Those guys are going to be aggressive, because they are very tough here to beat. The fans here are great. They are loud. They are passionate about basketball, so it is going to be one of those games where we have to be mentally prepared and physically as well, because they are going to come out and hit us with the first punch.
The Thunder won just 23 games in their first season in Oklahoma City, 2008-09. But in the four seasons that followed, they've lost a combined 35 games on their home floor.
Oh, they are going to be ready," said Royal Ivey, who spent the last two seasons with the Thunder. "They dont lose two in a row at home, that doesnt happen. They are going to be ready because they are competitors. They are going to come with their hard hats and we have to be ready that first quarter, those first five minutes -- that is going to be key because this building is going to be on fire."
In Iveys tenure with the Thunder, the team never lost back-to-back home games. In fact, the Thunder have not done that since the 2009-10 season when they dropped consecutive home games twice before Christmas.
A great home court and a commitment to winning has made Oklahoma City a target destination for free agents, and that is in spite of the city being the 45th-largest market in the United States.
It is like a college environment, Ivey said. When new guys come in, like rookies, they are like freshmen. I was considered a senior. It is a college environment -- its like a family from top to bottom. First tier, the way they run their organization from the players to the front office to how they treat everybody. My time here was great.
Said Richardson: When free agents hear around the league that an organization is all about winning, taking care of their guys, a first class organization, guys are attracted to that. Because when you have that kind of atmosphere and commitment from the front office that is when you start talking about championships.
The Thunder have rubbed elbows with that championship feeling, losing in the NBA finals last spring to the Miami Heat in five games. Currently, they have the highest winning percentage in the NBA.
They have two of the top seven scorers in the NBA helping them average the second-most points per game at 106. In an earlier meeting this season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 67 points in an overtime victory for the Thunder -- unsurprisingly, that duo is the top scoring tandem in the league.
Ivey vividly remembers battling Westbrook daily in practice. The practice court, he says, is where Westbrook became an All-Star.
He is definitely a competitor, Ivey said of Westbrook. He is fierce. Everybody downplays his attitude, but that makes him good. He is a competitor. He hates to lose. He hates when he turns over the ball. He is hard on himself and he brings it every day in practice and it shows on the court because in practice he is always competing, always trying to outdo somebody.
Ivey went from guarding Westbrook every day in practice to playing against another UCLA product daily: Jrue Holiday.
Jrue is similar, but he is just quiet, Ivey compared. Russell is more vocal and more animated. Jrue is more reserved, but Jrue has that same competitive nature and he gets after it. They are similar pit bulls -- one is a blue-nose, one is a red-nose pit bull.
Dog lovers know that blue-nosed or red, neither is better -- just different.
Holiday, who Wednesday had his second career triple-double, has a right groin strain but is expected to play.
E-mail Dei Lynam at email@example.com