MILWAUKEE — I don’t know if Kevin Durant is going to play tonight.
The Thunder forward is a game-time decision against Milwaukee because of a sprained ankle. Teammate Jeff Green, meanwhile, is doubtful.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at what we might see Thunder coach Scott Brooks employ in their potential absences.
In the Thunder’s 89-84 win at Boston on Friday night, Brooks trotted out 14 different lineups. We haven’t seen that many combinations since the exhibition season. But with Durant and Green having to sit out Friday, Brooks was left with no choice but to play mix and match with a bunch of non-regulars like Mo Peterson, Royal Ivey and D.J. White. And with Durant, Green and Nenad Krstic all potentially on the shelf tonight against the Bucks, it’s no telling what we’re likely to see.
Brooks, as he has since taken the job, requires only one thing: if you get minutes, play them hard.
His role players responded in Boston, and they might have to do so again tonight.
I tracked the different units Brooks used against Boston, as they might foreshadow what we see tonight. There were some pretty funky lineups used against the Celtics. The Thunder played so darn hard, though, it hardly mattered who played with whom. But what did we learn from seeing such a makeshift rotation? A couple of things.
- James Harden should rarely be used at small forward. At least not early in his career. Boston forward Paul Pierce’s length and athleticism looked to have baffled Harden all night offensively. Harden couldn’t blow by Pierce, and the Thunder’s second-year shooting guard looked hesitant to catch and shoot when the ball was swung his way, as if Pierce was going to closeout quickly enough to come away with a block.
- Brooks clearly is comfortable putting Ivey on the floor, even away from his natural point guard position, to provide some defensive tenacity. And no matter what role Ivey is in, or how many minutes he’s asked to play, he looks like he’s capable of contributing some sort of impact.
- If ever Nenad Krstic doesn’t come to play, Nick Collison will quickly receive his minutes at center.
- Brooks clearly doesn’t want to play Ibaka at center if he doesn’t have to.
- Mo Peterson playing only five minutes against the Celtics tells me it’s his defense that’s keeping him off the court. Boston swingman Marquis Daniels had a few of what I like to call “big boy” plays against Mo. Daniels drove to the basket a few times in the first half, and put his shoulder into Peterson and finished around the rim at ease.
- And finally, Brooks doesn’t seem all that interested in playing Westbrook off the ball. Because of Westbrook’s driving ability, and his inability to consistently hit shots, it’s understandable. But Westbrook is so athletic that he can get where he wants without having 15 seconds of the shot clock to look for an opening.
And with that, here are all the lineups the Thunder used against Boston. What stands out to you?
1) Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Nenad Krstic
2) Westbrook, Sefolosha, Harden, Ibaka, Nick Collison
3) Eric Maynor, Sefolosha, Harden, D.J. White, Collison
4) Maynor, Sefolosha, Mo Peterson, White, Collison
5) Maynor, Westbrook, Peterson, White, Collison
6) Maynor, Royal Ivey, Peterson, White, Collison
7) Maynor, Ivey, Harden, White, Collison
8 ) Maynor, Ivey, Harden, Ibaka, Collison
9) Westbrook, Ivey, Harden, Ibaka, Collison
10) Westbrook, Ivey, Harden, Ibaka, Krstic
11) Maynor, Ivey, Sefolosha, Ibaka, Krstic
(And that just gets us through the first half)
12) Westbrook, Ivey, Sefolosha, Ibaka, Collison
13) Westbrook, Ivey, Sefolosha, White, Collison
14) Westbrook, Ivey, Harden, White, Collison