Observations from the Thunder’s 110-105 overtime victory against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center:
– Don’t be stunned if center Kendrick Perkins is activated for the Thunder’s three-game road trip at Cleveland, Washington and Miami next week.
That doesn’t guarantee he’ll start or even play, but the 6-foot-10, 280-pound Perkins is expected to practice with his teammates for the first time Friday since being traded two weeks ago.
Presumably, the Thunder will try to let Perkins make his return on the road, where there is considerably less pressure than playing in front of your new fans at home after a trade.
Perkins has made steady progress rehabbing his sprained left knee and you can sense an excitement among Thunder personnel that he is close to returning.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks might share an official target date for Perkins’ return after today’s practice, but every player essentially is considered day-to-day until Brooks receives clearance from the team’s medical staff on an injury.
– The Thunder traded for Perkins and Nazr Mohammed to get bigger, but lately OKC has gone small to combat perimeter matchup problems while awaiting Perkins’ return.
At Memphis on Monday night, the Thunder lost 107-101 with a smaller lineup, but OKC was able to do a decent job containing the powerful inside duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who combined for 35 points, but just 12 rebounds. What killed the Thunder was poor decision-making on offense, plus being unable to stop the penetration of Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. Memphis also got clutch play from former Oklahoma State guard Tony Allen and the predictable hustle from reserve Shane Battier, who had seven points and seven rebounds (five offensive).
At Philly on Wednesday, the Thunder went with even a smaller, four-guard lineup at the start of the second and fourth quarters with James Harden, Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha, Daequan Cook and power forward Nick Collison.
In the second quarter, that lineup came from six down to forge a tie at 41 before All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook re-entered. In the fourth quarter, though the lineup struggled to score early, it set the defensive tone that eventually resulted in victory.
So while some Thunder fans have questioned Brooks for going with a smaller lineup, these past two weeks actually should be viewed as a good sign that OKC has shown the capability to go small, which can still be used as an alternative even when the team gets bigger with Perkins.
- Serge Ibaka isn’t the only player to step in and replace Jeff Green at the stretch 4 spot. Durant and Thabo Sefolosha have, too.
Perhaps the best way to explain is to have somebody smart tell it. Therefore, here is Nick Collison explaining Wednesday’s success while going small:
“We’re having a tough time with pick-and-rolls, and when we play a perimeter guy at the 4, we can switch (on screens). I think that helps us at times, plus it gives the other team a different look they have to adjust to. Thaddeus Young (four points, five rebounds in 29 minutes) really didn’t hurt us a lot individually playing against a bigger guy (Ibaka). Initially you look at that matchup and say he’s a tough cover for a traditional big, but he wasn’t really killing us, which helped us with the pick-and-rolls. KD can play the 4. It’s actually similar to what Jeff did. They’re different players, but they kind of overlap a little bit. And when they’re playing a perimeter guy like Thaddeus Young, Thabo can play the 4, too.”
- Cook obviously likes the smaller lineup because he has a better chance of playing, but there are other reasons. “You get a lot of ball movement. You get a lot of quickness. If you’ve got KD at the 4, it’s a big mismatch for the other team, plus he’s able to distribute the ball the way he can. It makes the offense flow a lot better.”
- The most omnipresent question asked of Thunder players and coaches this season no doubt has been having someone explain the team’s slow starts defensively.
“Man, you always ask me that question,” Durant said Wednesday night.
Sorry. Just looking for an answer.
Cook: “We’ve got to fix that. The championship-caliber teams are not going to let us back in the game, so we’ve got to figure out a way to not start out games like that. It’s just a learning process, but we have found ways to better ourselves as a team.”
Collison: “We wish we could be more consistent and play good defense all the time, but it’s good to be able to it late, I guess. I could definitely tell a difference in how it felt that last stretch (against the Sixers). Everybody was more engaged, a lot tougher.”
Sefolosha: “I really can’t figure out why, but I guess better late than never …”
Brooks: “… Or not at all.”
- Two members of the maintenance crew were overheard inside the Wells Fargo Center around midnight.
Worker No. 1: “Man, we blew it tonight. We had ‘em. Oklahoma City was dead.”
Worker No. 2: “Hey, as long as they have Durant, those guys are never dead.”
Had the Thunder indeed lost, it would be 39-24 right now – the exact same record it had through 63 games last season.