MILWAUKEE -- The Oklahoma City Thunder locker room was in good spirits after their win over the Milwaukee Bucks last night. Laughter and good vibes defied miserable weather outside, as driving April snow continued to fall since before tip-off at Fiserv Forum.
The positive feel was justified, as win number 49 on the season ensured the Thunder avoided any chance of running into a Golden State Warriors buzzsaw in the first round, opening up their window for a long playoff run.
The night wasn't totally without drama, as star big man Steven Adams went down on his shoulder with full force on a hard Tim Frazier foul in the second quarter.
Adams would log just over 12 minutes on the night, though he remained typically laid back when ESPN enquired about his condition post-game.
"Yeah feel alright mate, making it work you know?" Adams said with a shrug.
Adams will be critical to the Thunder's post-season hopes, as they look to avenge a first-round exit to the Utah Jazz one-year ago.
Strictly looking at the numbers, the regular-season looks strikingly similar to last year's, with just one win being added to their 48-34 record in 2017-18, though Adams reveals the group's feeling about being in a good place.
"Obviously, [we are] very confident. I feel like we made some good leaps in the right areas, all the boys are confident. We are just eager to get to the playoffs. We're looking pretty good," Adams said.
Improving their record by just one win may be seen in some circles as a disappointing campaign for a squad that was pegged as a home court playoff contender, but Adams dismisses those claims, refusing to look outside the four walls of the Thunder locker room.
"Expectations being our ones, I think [we met them], yes. I think we did a pretty good job in that sense.
"Obviously, you could argue that you could always do better. You ask any one of these guys and they'll say, 'oh, we should have bloody won every game,' you know, it's just one of those things but for the most part, mate, we took advantage of those games and learned from them and grew from them."
The win over Milwaukee and subsequent results around the league mean OKC will meet the Portland Trail Blazers in the first-round beginning this weekend, not that the race for playoff seeds was causing Adams to lose any sleep.
"Talking about player's perspective, it doesn't really matter who we come up against, it's all about executing the scout [game plan], make sure we are disciplined on that, make sure everybody is on the same page and then just make all the small plays," Adams explained.
"All the plays that actually matter, that's what it's all about for the playoffs but again, that's just from the player's perspective. All the outside stuff, you've probably seen it on Twitter mate, they go bloody crazy thinking we match up better with them or this. It doesn't matter for us to be honest."
Westbrook spin cycles a defender, finds Adams who slams it home
Russell Westbrook jukes two defenders, spinning around one of them to hit his Steven Adams who drives it home.
National team play is a hot topic in NBA circles, with the FIBA World Cup scheduled for September, though the star big man from New Zealand remained adamant he has bigger fish to fry in the present.
"Honestly mate, it's just one of those things that's a maybe because every time I'm asked. It's like, I couldn't care less right now, all my mind, all my energy is here, and rightfully so," Adams said with a laugh.
Though his mind is firmly fixed on his immediate NBA future, he did reveal that the lines of communication are open with Basketball New Zealand and the World Cup remains a possibility.
"I am talking to them, not often, but you know, we talk or text. I talk to the head coach all the time, so we are in touch if that makes sense."
Adams went on to express his desire to again represent his country, with a traditional sporting rivalry a motivating factor.
"Yeah, absolutely yeah, absolutely I would [love to play for New Zealand]. Obviously, I want the country to succeed. It's a great country. One of the biggest goals is to beat Australia to be honest with you mate, because we always lose!"
If you thought the trans-Tasman rivalry was off-limits during the NBA season, you would be sorely mistaken, as verbal barbs between the Australian contingent and Adams continue across the Pacific.
"Oh yeah, they chime in bro, they chime in because we'll check out the NBL because we have the New Zealand Breakers so [Joe] Ingles will chirp up and say, 'hey you see the score mate?' and it's like, 'yeah, carry on with the game, w-----,'" Adams said with a laugh.
"Just little banter, obviously when you are home it's like this brotherly hate, but over here obviously I'm cool with all the Aussies. It's a weird thing, it's like you go overseas to another country and you're like, 'oh yeah, you are one of the boys, but then you go back home and you're like, 'oh, w---ers, get out of here.'"
Adams versus Australia in international hoops? Sign us up.
But for now, Adams has a ring to chase.
"Again, mate, it's about that we made it to the playoffs and now we just have to lock in and try and make it to the end."
The Portland Trailblazers host Steven Adams and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday morning - 5:30am (AEST)