The Thunder on Friday night faced Maurice Cheeks for the first time since he accepted the head coaching position with Detroit this summer.
Oklahoma City outlasted the Pistons, 119-110, inside The Palace of Auburn Hills, but the bond between Cheeks and Thunder players and coaches remains strong, a product of Cheeks spending the past four seasons with the Thunder.
“I'm excited for his opportunity here,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I learned a lot from him. I love how he thinks the game. He has a very strong, systematic approach of getting better every month. It's kind of like what I believe in. But he's a big part of that. Their team will always be better month by month, year by year. That's the way he approaches things. He's very consistent in his work.”
At several points in the game, Cheeks and Thunder players exchanged pleasantries. Derek Fisher strolled over and shook hands with Cheeks. Kevin Durant patted Cheeks on the hip after hitting a tough fadeaway in the final two minutes. Cheeks grinned when Russell Westbrook nailed a familiar pullup jumper in transition.
“Coach Cheeks was great for us. He really did a lot here,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “I was happy to see him get a job because I know that's what he wanted.
“But he was a great influence on a lot of our players. He was a guy that could talk to guys on the side and calm guys down in certain situations or build guys up in certain situations. He just really has a good feel for players and the mental part of the game. He did a lot here.”
BROOKS NOT WORRIED ABOUT PERKINS
Starting center Kendrick Perkins has played fewer minutes than rookie center Steven Adams in three of the previous four games.
Brooks, however, said Friday that he's not worried about Perkins' ego or his ability to stay mentally engaged.
“It's not something that I'm concerned with,” Brooks said. “He's a big part of what we do. He's been a great pro for over a decade. He understands he has to just continue to focus on his minutes.”
Perkins played less minutes in each subsequent game in the Thunder's first four contests. He played just 17 at Detroit on Friday.
“I like what he's done,” Brooks said. “We have three guys that I can throw in that position and help us win games, and he understands that role. He understands what we need out of that position.”
Before leaving town Wednesday, Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki fired back some complimentary words about Kevin Durant, who earlier in the day ranked Nowitzki as his favorite player.
“He's way better than I was at 25,” Nowitzki said. “He's the complete package. He's so long. He can shoot from anywhere. He can post now. He can go left, he can go right.
“What they've been telling me is he's a gym rat. He lives in the gym all summer. He wants to get better every year, even though he's one of the best offensive weapons we have in our game. But he wants to improve. He wants to work hard. Really, the sky is the limit.”
Dallas guard Vince Carter was suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of Adams, the NBA announced Friday.
The incident occurred with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter of the Thunder's 107-93 victory over the Mavericks on Wednesday night. Carter was assessed a Flagrant Foul 2 and ejected for the incident.
Carter served his suspension Friday at Minnesota.
The Thunder wore its navy blue alternate uniform for the first time this season Friday night. OKC unveiled the uniform last year and went 6-5 in games in which it wore them. The team was 2-0 at home. … Reggie Jackson rejoined the Thunder lineup after missing the second half of Wednesday's game against Dallas with a left hip contusion. He scored six points with six rebounds and six assists in 18 minutes.
The Thunder returns home Sunday to host Washington. Tip is 6 p.m.