There’s few secrets regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder as the regular season opener against San Antonio looms on Nov. 1.
The Thunder, which defeated the Dallas Mavericks 88-76 on Wednesday night at Intrust Bank Arena in front of a sellout crowd of 15,004, is coming off an NBA Finals appearance.
Oklahoma City didn’t find it necessary to overhaul the lineup. It didn’t have to, not with an outstanding core that revolves around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
“It’s nice to be able to come in and start where we left off,” said Nick Collison, a former Kansas player, who was cheered often as he finished with six points and a blocked shot. “We don’t have to put in new plays. We’re working on the nuances of the game. It’s been a really good camp and we’re ready to get started.”
Guard Russell Westbrook agreed.
“Everybody knows each other’s game,” he said. “We know what we’re capable of doing as a team. We’ve been together for a while now, so we know what to do to win games.”
The Thunder was led Wednesday by Durant’s 18 points, while Serge Ibaka had two blocked shots and 15 points. James Harden scored 16.
While coach Scott Brooks was pleased with the crowd and the atmosphere at Intrust Bank Arena, the Thunder’s 18 turnovers were a concern.
“At times it got a little sloppy,” he said. “Offensively we turned the ball over too many times. Our spacing wasn’t as good as it has been in the last few games. It’s all part of preseason.”
All seven preseason games are just as important to the Thunder as the training camp practices.
“There’s not a lot of wasted time and steps in our practices. Everything we do is focused on ways to get better as a group and as an individual,” Brooks said.
As for the games, Brooks isn’t about to wear out any player by playing too much. Durant and Westbrook didn’t play in Tuesday’s game at Chicago, and Durant’s 30 minutes Wednesday were the most by a Thunder player.
But Brooks expects the Thunder to treat each game seriously.
“I tell them, ‘all your minutes are important,’ ” Brooks said. “You either have guys who are trying to make the team, and if you don’t play your minutes hard, you’re disrespecting those guys. You have guys trying to earn minutes and guys trying to start. It’s a great opportunity when you have a group of competitive guys who understand how importance practice and games are.”
Durant definitely understands.
“Every time you step on the floor, you don’t want to hold back just because it’s the preseason,” he said. “You want to get better every time you step on the floor.”
The Thunder has battled injuries. Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha played for the first time on Sunday, while the Thunder held out Harden for three games because of a deep thigh bruise.
The Thunder is deeper at guard with the return of Eric Maynor, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in early January. He missed the final 57 games. The Thunder drafted Baylor’s Perry Jones at No. 28.
At 6-foot-11, he is long and athletic, but the question is where he’ll find his minutes. It’s tough breaking into such a solid rotation, with Ibaka and Perkins eating up most of those minutes.
Asked if the Thunder has improved from last season, Durant laughed and said, “it’s kind of early.”
“Preseason we’re averaging over 20s in assists,” he said. “If we continue that, we were one of the last in the league in that last year, so if we continue to do that, we’ll be fine. We can do that. We have to be consistent with it every single day.”
The Thunder had 15 assists in the first half Wednesday, 26 overall.
The Thunder has a week off before the season opener, and that could be a concern.
“It’s definitely quite a few days off,” Brooks said. “We’re always utilizing our practice time as a time to get better and develop and keep improving. There’s no question in seven or eight days, we’re going to have that opportunity.”
DALLAS (76)—Da.Jones 1-7 3-3 5, Crowder 10-19 0-0 21, Brand 3-8 2-2 8, D.Collison 3-7 0-0 7, Mayo 4-9 0-1 9, Wright 3-6 5-6 11, West 1-3 0-2 2, Beaubois 1-2 0-0 2, James 2-6 1-4 5, Do.Jones 3-11 0-0 6, Cunningham 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 31-83 11-18 76.
OKLAHOMA CITY (88)—Durant 7-16 3-4 18, Ibaka 6-11 3-4 15, Perkins 3-8 0-0 6, Westbrook 4-10 0-0 8, Sefolosha 3-3 0-0 7, N.Collison 3-6 0-0 6, Harden 6-15 2-2 16, Aldrich 0-1 0-0 0, Maynor 2-4 0-0 5, Jones III 1-4 0-0 2, Rautins 2-6 0-0 5, Thabeet 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 37-86 8-10 88.
3-Point Goals—Dallas 3-16 (D.Collison 1-1, Mayo 1-2, Crowder 1-6, Cunningham 0-1, West 0-1, Do.Jones 0-2, Da.Jones 0-3), Oklahoma City 6-18 (Harden 2-7, Sefolosha 1-1, Rautins 1-3, Durant 1-3, Maynor 1-3, Westbrook 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Dallas 53 (Crowder 9), Oklahoma City 57 (Westbrook 9). Assists—Dallas 18 (Do.Jones 4), Oklahoma City 26 (Westbrook 6). Total Fouls—Dallas 11, Oklahoma City 18. Technicals—Westbrook. A—15,004 (15,000).