The regular season is still two weeks away and already the Thunder has a must-win against the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night.
Scoff if you want, but imagine the snickers if OKC — the league's latest darling and the defending Western Conference champion — lost to the franchise that last season set the record for the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
Tuesday's 7 p.m. contest marks the first time the Thunder has played at Chesapeake Energy Arena since losing Game 2 in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
OKC's last victory came in Game 1 against the Heat on June 12. Since then, there's been nothing but losses for the locals, who for three straight regular seasons never lost more than three straight games.
The Thunder has lost six straight dating back to last postseason, and coach Scott Brooks seemed stunned when reminded of this.
“Wow … That's gonna be on the board (inside the locker room),” said a smiling Brooks, presumably joking.
The first four losses came against Miami in the NBA Final — which meant everything. The last two losses have come against Houston and Utah this preseason — which means nothing.
But losing, even in the preseason, is never a good thing. Brooks repeatedly has told his team that winning should always matter to the five guys on the court.
“No matter who we have on the floor, we're out there to win,” Brooks said. “We're out there to execute. You're out there to play for your teammates and play hard. That doesn't change, no matter who's on the floor.”
The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers own the NBA's worst regular-season record of all-time at 9-73 (. 110).
The 2011-12 season was shortened to 66 games because of a lockout, which meant the Bobcats had to settle for the lowest winning percentage of all-time at 7-59 (. 106). Charlotte finished 39 games behind Miami in the Southeast Division.
Brooks has been a mad scientist all month, experimenting with multiple lineup combinations and Tuesday's exhibition will be no different.
However, if OKC truly possesses one of the league's deepest rosters, shouldn't that be more than good enough to beat the Bobcats no matter who is on the floor when the clock expires?
Although it would behoove OKC to win one for the home folks, Brooks said he will not take a win-at-all-costs approach to Tuesday's game.
If the game is still in doubt in the closing minutes, will three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant re-enter?
“No,” Brooks said.
Will OKC have any starters on the court at the end of the game?
“Not all,” Brooks said.
“Some,” Brooks said.
Brooks has limited options because two starters and the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year will be wearing street clothes Tuesday. Center Kendrick Perkins (wrist) and guard Thabo Sefolosha (thigh bruise) are on the mend and have yet to play this preseason, while top reserve James Harden (groin) will miss his second straight game.
You certainly won't find anyone in the Thunder organization snickering at what Charlotte went through last season. Brooks, Durant, Russell Westbrook and veteran forward Nick Collison experienced the same themselves during the Thunder's inaugural season in 2008-09.
The OKC franchise started out 3-29 (. 094) and was getting peppered with questions about possibly ending the 76ers' historic reign of inferiority.
The Thunder won a home game on New Year's Eve against Golden State, which ignited a 20-30 “spurt” to finish the season at 23-59 (. 280).
“You know what, you think about it. There's no question,” said Brooks, who lost 12 of his first 13 games after replacing P.J. Carlesimo as head coach on Nov. 22, 2008. “It's where we started from. It wasn't that we were trying to just develop our team and did not care about winning games. We still had our philosophy to keep improving, keep working on our game, make every game a fourth-quarter game and eventually we're going to learn how to win those games. And you know, we did.”
From 2007-09, Durant and Collison went a combined 43-121 (. 262) with the Seattle SuperSonics/Thunder.
“I've been in those shoes before. I've been on bad teams where you struggle to win,” Collison said when asked what the Bobcats endured last season. “It's tough, but you try to keep perspective of what you get to do for a living. You've got a pretty good job. You get to play basketball every day. You have to come in and work hard for 2-3 hours to try and get better every day. If you can keep that perspective, it helps you get through it.”
Brooks shook his head hearkening back to the first season in OKC.
“You don't wish it upon anybody to go through a season like that,” said Brooks, who paused and cracked a smile before joking, “Um, I guess maybe a few teams you wish it upon.”
Thunder vs. Charlotte Bobcats
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* Thunder guard James Harden will not play because of a groin injury. The injury is not believed to be serious.
* Thabo Sefolosha is doubtful with a quad injury. He has missed the first two games, and Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he might sit out one more contest before joining the lineup.
* Rookie forward Perry Jones III, the 28th overall pick, is averaging 11 points and 3.5 rebounds in two preseason games.