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Mark Daigneault, multiple Thunder players discuss grueling January schedule

The Oklahoma City Thunder are finally on the other side of their most grueling month of the 2023-24 regular season.

During January, the Thunder played 17 games with 11 on the road and an excruciating five back-to-backs. The NBA jammed OKC’s January schedule with several games to make up for lost time following a relaxed December due to the in-season tournament.

With the month finally over, the OKC capped off a 17-games-in-31-days gauntlet by clinching a pivotal season series over the Denver Nuggets. In total, the Thunder went 11-6 — a moderate success considering the level of opponents OKC played.

Fatigueness started to show near the end of the month, with back-to-back losses to the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Thunder sprinted past the finish line with a third win over the Nuggets.

Entering February, the Thunder (33-15) sit in second place and are one game back from the first seed. An ideal spot to be at with two months left in the regular season.

Here’s what Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault and players had to say about surviving the physically taxing month.

Mark Daigneault:

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

“This is one of the most difficult months in the NBA for any team in the last five years, just objectively. Five back-to-backs, that’s a very big number in a month. That’s pretty unprecedented…

“17 games, 11 road games. The amount of days in market we’ve had at home without a game, just like data alone… Pretty unprecedented. When you look at it and the mentality of our players to just plow through that and throw their hardest punch every night has been very impressive.

“Especially for a young team because — Shai, Lu, those guys — they’ve played big minutes over a long period of time. When you stack a season like that, plus summers where you can work on your body and then another season and another summer, players condition themselves to be able to handle the NBA schedule.

“Most of our team is not through that cycle multiple times like those two guys or like some of the guys on Denver like veteran players…

“I’m really impressed by their ability to plow through it, respond to adversity, prepare themselves on the front end with recovery and all the invisible work that they’re doing to get ready to play and just how they’re approaching the challenge. They’re seeing it as an opportunity. They’re not using it as an excuse…

“I haven’t heard one excuse from our players about the schedule of travel or anything like that. So the mentality that they’re taking to it. It’s been overwhelmingly impressive.”

Chet Holmgren:

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

“Tired. But like you can’t sit here and just tell yourself, ‘I’m tired’ or this or that. Nobody cares. Other teams don’t care — they’re tired, they still wanna win. I’m not looking into any of that stuff like, ‘This might hurt, that might hurt, I’m tired, I don’t have time for this.’

“It doesn’t matter, I gotta figure out how to continue to be better every single night. I didn’t come into this season thinking it was going to be easy for 82 games. I know there’s a long ways to go and there’s gonna be ups and downs but I’m trying to stay pretty even through all of it.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander:

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

“It was a good challenge for us. We have a lot of guys that play haven’t gone through something like that. It’s only gonna make us better. We only would get better going through it.

“We know that we’re not the only team that does and has a hard schedule to start out the season. Nobody is gonna feel sorry for us. We wanted to kinda just focus on what we can control and give our best effort.”

Vasilije Micic:

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

“I think we have a lot of talented players besides the main guys. So we can get that energy from those guys — including myself, I always try to stay ready for any minutes. This year is something that’s very interesting for a team no matter how young we are, that winning mentality is present.

“That’s very important for team to grow faster and to learn your role. Having an idea of a tough schedule in January was important for every player to understand. If something happened, — for example, injury to JDub — we have to step up and take this responsibility and just maintain the pace and maintain the quality of basketball.”

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire