Billy Donovan’s philosophy rest vs. rhythm: Players have the ultimate say

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SACRAMENTO — Gregg Popovich is playing his core guys against Golden State, but is resting them in other games. Steve Kerr would like to rest his core players more, but they are chasing history. Every coach with a team headed to the playoffs is struggling with the same question:

Rest or rhythm?

Thunder coach Billy Donovan played his core guys against Sacramento in the final game at Arco/Sleep Train Arena (a Kings win), but the decision on how much to use his guys the last couple weeks is something he is wrestling with.

“When you rest guys, you’re breaking a rhythm,” Donovan said. “And then all of a sudden you’ve got guys going into that game where players are rested that start when they don’t normally start, they log more minutes than they normally log, they’re in a role they’re not normally in, and then you’re asking them to go back to the way it was before.”

Donovan said there is a clear priority that drives their decision tree — health.

But that decision is made collaboratively.

“I always think you’ve got to put the players’ health first and foremost,” Donovan said. “I think that every team that’s going into the playoffs, the number one focus and goal is you want to go into the playoffs healthy. But not too far behind that is you want to be playing well….

“The decisions we are making are how many minutes have guys played? Do they need a rest? We really rely on them, on our medical staff, it’s a collaborative effort.”

In the end, everyone ways in, but it’s the players that have the hammer and make the decision (something Kerr is dealing with particularly).

“(Players are) going to have the ultimate say so, and what I appreciate about (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) is they have been open-minded to how they feel, where they’re at. So they are very involved…

“We played in Detroit (second night of a road back-to-back on March 29) and Russell said he felt great. We went back and looked at his minutes, our medical staff looked him and said he’s fine and if he wants to play he can play. They’re going to be heavily involved.”

Expect Westbrook and Durant to get a little rest before the playoffs start, because as of this weekend there are no more nights off.