A sense of normalcy returned to the Thunder on Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena when the team's starting lineup shared the court for the first time this preseason.
Guard Thabo Sefolosha and center Kendrick Perkins made their first appearances after offseason injuries in OKC's 108-101 victory over the Denver Nuggets before a sellout crowd of 18,203.
Sefolosha has been nursing a deep bruise to his left thigh for six weeks while Perkins completed his comeback from July 19 surgery to his left wrist after having a pin removed on Friday.
“To have the whole group back and play the way we know how to play was great,” Sefolosha said. “I think we made a conscious effort by coming out strong with the defense and I think we did that very well.”
Sefolosha played 20 minutes and had eight points (3 for 6 from the field; 2 for 4 from 3-point range), four rebounds, one block and several deflections.
Perkins played 18 minutes and had four points, four rebounds and two blocks.
“They're good players who know how to play, know how we play, and it did give us a little bit of a lift with our starting five,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who missed the previous three games with a left groin strain, also returned and finished with 16 points (5 for 13 from the field; 2 for 5 on 3-pointers), four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“It feels great to be back out there,” said Harden, who has until Oct. 31 to agree to a contract extension or become a restricted free agent on July 1.
Perkins struggled with his offensive timing, committing two turnovers off passes and getting two shots blocked on consecutive possessions.
“Perk hasn't played in a live game since last year's Finals (on June 21),” Brooks said. “I thought he was good his first showing.”
In posting its third straight preseason victory, the Thunder (3-2) once again shared the ball well with 25 assists, led by Russell Westbrook with nine. In its three victories, OKC has 85 assists, an average of 28.3 per contest. Last season, the Thunder averaged a league-worst 18.5 assists.
“Another step in the right direction for us,” Brooks said. “The last three games our passing has been really good for us. We're moving it, we're sharing it, we're coming off our screens hard, we're having great spacing so it allows us to make easier decisions.”
The Thunder shot 15 for 32 (. 469) from 3-point range.
“I really look at if we were open,” Brooks said when asked if that was too many attempts beyond the arc. “If we were driving and shooting 3s that were contested, that's not a good shot. But when they're open shots, I have no problem with that. We're a good 3-point shooting team when our feet are set, when we really make that drive-and-kick pass for a 3 and we did that tonight quite a few times.”
Particularly pleasing to Brooks was his reserves winning the fourth quarter 27-20 against a Nuggets lineup consisting primarily of their top seven players.
Reggie Jackson, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Perry Jones III played the entire fourth quarter, while DeAndre Liggin relieved Harden for the final 3:37.
“I tell the guys all the time, ‘Your job is to do your job. No matter who you're playing with, no matter what the score, no matter what time of the game it is, you still have to have an impact,' ” Brooks said.
OKC plays at Chicago on Tuesday in a game on NBA TV and plays at Wichita, Kan., on Wednesday against Dallas in a game televised by Fox Sports Oklahoma.