Rockets 107, Thunder 105
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s loss to Houston.
- Russell Westbrook obviously was the star of the game for the Thunder. A good amount of the preseason talk thus far has been about Westbrook and Kevin Durant playing more in the post. The Thunder wasted no time going to Westbrook down low. And it was a thing of beauty. Quick, name the point guards who can handle Westbrook on the block. I’ll bet Jeremy Lin isn’t one of them. I’ll bet there aren’t three who can. That’s what makes it so intriguing. Westbrook is simply bigger, stronger and better than most everybody he’ll battle with on the block. It’s an extremely efficient way to generate points, be it easy looks or trips to the foul line. There’s a good chance we’ll see much more of that.
- Westbrook consistently worked from the left block, backing down Lin before spinning and shooting about an eight footer with ease. At times, Westbrook faced up and simply shot over the top. The most impressive part of Westbrook’s work in the post tonight, though, was his patience. He had a plan and he never rushed it. If he can stick to that, there’s no telling the impact it could have on his offense and the team’s rhythm in the haflcourt.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Westbrook’s patience in the post: “It takes time to gain that patience. You don’t come in this league and all of a sudden put yourself in a position that you’re not used to and expect to be patient. I thought his patience was as (good) as it has been. He felt very comfortable down there.”
- Westbrook we know is a star. So the story of the night in my opinion was the play of the backup centers. Those guys we don’t know anything about, not if we’re being fair to all three and judging them on what they’ve done in a Thunder uniform rather than in the past. Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet were solid. Solid enough that you can consider this opener a success for them.
- Aldrich finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, the only double-double of the night. He added three blocks in 34 minutes. He wasn’t great. But he wasn’t terrible. He got better as the game went along, which helped his stat line look pretty incredible for him. That’s not to say he didn’t play well. He showed improved awareness defending the pick-and-roll, displayed his ability to knock down jump hooks with either hand and played with relentless effort on the glass even if he couldn’t corral every ball.
- The bad on Aldrich’s night included ill-advised fouls which seemed to stem from being out of position or overly aggressive, getting beat by Omer Asik in transition early and botching a handoff to Westbrook that allowed Lin to come up with a steal.
- Thabeet admitted after the game that he’s gotten better at catching the ball cleanly. He said he was bobbling the ball a lot the past few years but his improvement helped him finish dump offs tonight. If he can keep that up, he could be a threat on drive and dump plays. But he will have to be a clear path to the basket because if Thabeet has to pivot or pump fake or anything other than go straight up it isn’t likely to end well.
- Thabeet falls for any fake. You’ve been warned.
- Durant was Durant. Nothing new tonight and nothing special. He went in the post against Chandler Parsons a time or two and looked like classic KD when he sank turnaround jumpers. He only got credited for three rebounds, but Durant looked ready and willing to mix it up with anyone to fight for a board. That was a good sign. And Durant also defended Patrick Patterson in the post some, which might have been a scary sight in the past but KD held his own, which surprisingly included his position.
- The Thunder’s transition defense early on stunk. Not sure what happened there, but it got much better in the final three quarters.
- The rebounding never did. OKC gave up 21 offensive rebounds and that drew the ire of Brooks, who typically focuses on the positives but made a point to address the poor rebounding even in a preseason game. Keep in mind rebounding allegedly has been a focal point throughout camp so that probably has a lot to do with Brooks’ displeasure. “I thought we did some good things out there, but I thought we did some things that we need to get better at,” Brooks said. “Offensive rebounds, we just gave up too many. That’s been an issue for our team the last few years. We got to clean that up and hopefully this preseason we can get better in that area because we can make teams miss.”
- The starters were Westbrook, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, Durant (yes, at the 4) and Aldrich. Serge Ibaka was a late scratch due to a left quad contusion. You know about Thabo Sefolosha (quad) and Kendrick Perkins (wrist).
- James Harden was the first man off the bench. Thabeet was next, followed by DeAndre Liggins, Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison.
- Jackson got the nod tonight ahead of Eric Maynor. But I wouldn’t read too much into it. It’s highly likely that Maynor will be the first backup at Utah and Jackson serves as the third stringer.
- Maynor got 3-ball happy tonight. He squeezed off three in his first three minutes of action. Five of his 10 shot attempts were 3s. I hope he doesn’t fall in love with that shot.
- As expected, Maynor played with the knee brace. But he looked like he was himself, which was especially impressive against Toney Douglas.
- Worth noting that Harden brought the ball up occasionally even with Maynor in the lineup.
- I counted nine lineups in the first half.
- The starters.
- Westbrook, Harden, Hayward, Durant, Aldrich.
- Westbrook, Harden, Hayward, Durant, Thabeet.
- Westbrook, Harden, Liggins, Durant, Thabeet.
- Jackson, Harden, Liggins, Collison, Thabeet.
- Jackson, Liggins, Durant, Collison, Thabeet.
- Jackson, Liggins, Durant, Collison, Aldrich.
- Westbrook, Liggins, Durant, Collison, Aldrich.
- Westbrook, Hayward, Durant, Collison, Aldrich.
- Liggins might have been the second best player for the Thunder tonight. The guy was all over the floor, doing just about everything well. I wasn’t familiar with him before but after tonight I’m rooting for him to stick somewhere. He finishes well around the rim. He took a charge on Terrence Jones. He battles for boards, finishing with two on each end. He makes the extra pass, finding Thabeet for one of his easy baskets in the first half. And he is a hound on defense, blocking shots and swiping the ball from behind on multiple occasions when it looked like he was beat. All you need to know about DeAndre Liggins is Brooks didn’t plan on playing him 25 minutes tonight. Liggins earned every second of his playing time. We’re always talking about Perry Jones III defending KD in practice. Forget that. After tonight, I’d love to see Liggins lock his radar on Durant.
- Brooks on Liggins: “He plays defense with everything he has. And you love guys that play with their hearts out every possession. He’s determined to get a stop. I like his toughness. I like his length. He’s always pursing. He never gives up on plays. He’s one of those stay and play type of guys. You can never ever have enough of those guys.”
- PJIII was solid. Not great. He really didn’t do anything to stand out despite finishing with eight points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. He showed his smooth touch from mid-range but he drifted out to the 3-point line once and it wasn’t a good idea. Most importantly, after building them up all last week Brooks sort of couched expectations for PJIII tonight. “Like I always say, with our team, or any team in this league when you’re a rookie, there’s a learning curve,” Brooks said. “And on our team it’s hard to get minutes. Let’s face it. He’s behind Serge and Kevin and he still has to gain the experience that he needs in order to play consistent minutes in this league.”
- Sefolosha will not play at Utah. But he will be evaluated following the Jazz game and could make his debut in the home opener against Charlotte on Tuesday.
- Some of the best news of the night that I can give you: Jackson gets it across halfcourt much faster now. He doesn’t play with his dribble nearly as much, and he’s even dropped that off hand a bit. He’s still not racing up the court, but he’s much, much better than you remember from last year.
- Collison uncharacteristically threw the ball away twice tonight looking for teammates. He’s normally a pretty mistake-free player. But he was out of sync tonight. I’d chalk that up to the funky lineups and not really having much chemistry with certain lineups.
- Collison also has said he would look for his shot much more this season. He didn’t really do that tonight until the second half. He had just one shot attempt in the first half but grew more aggressive in the second.
- Collison’s one made field goal? Of course it was on the Harden-to-Collison pocket pass. So pretty.
- Hayward was 3-for-10 tonight and had eight points with five boards, two assists and two steals. By far his best play of the night (aside from the excessive dribbling it took to set it up) was an iso he had on Parsons that ended in a gorgeous dump off to Thabeet for a dunk.
- D.C.’s shot is as pretty as it’s ever been. He went 1-for-4 from downtown and just like always that one bomb that has perfect rotation from a seemingly effortless flick of the wrist forces you to think ‘Why ain’t this guy playing more?’
- Another thing Aldrich did well at times tonight: screen. He got Westbrook a relatively open 3 (I say relatively because Westbrook was so confident shooting it tonight that it didn’t matter how he was being guarded) and Harden a open 3 that missed. Aldrich has to work on slowing down on his ball screens though. He was whistled for an offensive foul when he tried to flatten Lin.
- Brooks forgot his hair gel folks. Riveting insight, I know.
- Apparently, Thabeet has a nickname. “Hash.”
- Up next: at Utah on Friday.
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