For only the third time this season, the Thunder on Wednesday was forced to play a different starting lineup.
Kendrick Perkins, the team's starting center, did not play at Houston because of a strained right knee he sustained in Tuesday's practice. The team is listing Perkins as day-to-day with the injury, but it isn't believed to be serious.
Perkins was seen sitting on the sideline at Wednesday morning's shootaround receiving treatment from the team's medical staff. When he rose to gather his belongings before exiting the Toyota Center, Perkins moved slowly and walked with a pronounced limp.
“We'll see how he feels (Thursday) when we go back to OKC,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We'll evaluate it (then).”
News of the injury arrived on the same morning that a report in The Arizona Republic said the Thunder and Suns were engaged in trade discussions for Perkins over the All-Star break. The report said the Thunder would receive Suns center Marcin Gortat and forward P.J. Tucker in exchange for Perkins, rookie Jeremy Lamb and a first-round pick.
A team official said Perkins' injury is legitimate and essentially dismissed the notion that it had anything to do with Wednesday morning's report. The report was later refuted by a subsequent report, and the original reporter later explained that his report was more of a league rumor rather than an actual deal being discussed by the two teams.
The trade deadline is 2 p.m. Thursday, though, and as it fast approaches it's brought its annual amount of angst over what, if anything, might unfold.
“I've been here six years now, and you're never shocked about what happens in the NBA because anything can happen in the last hour,” said Kevin Durant. “So I'm never shocked … We're just waiting to see what happens.
“I like where we are. We're 39-14. If you want to make big changes to that, I guess. But I like where we are right now. We'll see what happens. You never know in this league.”
Guard Thabo Sefolosha and forward Serge Ibaka are the only other Thunder starters to miss a game this season. Sefolosha missed one game with a neck strain. Ibaka missed two games with a chest contusion.
HOW DOES 59 WINS SOUND?
Before Wednesday's game against the Rockets, the Thunder was on pace for a 60-22 season, which would be the first 60-win season in the franchise's Oklahoma City era.
But in each of the last three seasons, the Thunder won exactly 20 games after the All-Star break. If that three-year trend holds, OKC would go 20-9 after this year's All-Star break and to finish 59-23.
“Who wouldn't take that, 59 wins?” said Durant. “But we want to aim higher than that … We'll see what happens. We've got a tough schedule and so many tough teams fighting for playoff positions and fighting for seeds.”
When asked if he would take a 20-9 finish, Brooks appeared borderline insulted.
“Nine losses?” he said, half-jokingly before turning serious.
“Anytime you get in the 50s is good.”
WHY NOT COLLISON?
Many fans wondered why Brooks didn't start Nick Collison rather than Hasheem Thabeet in place of Perkins on Wednesday night. When asked that question, Brooks said he preferred consistency.
“I like Nick coming off the bench. It just stays with our same rotation,” Brooks said. “He has a good chemistry with our guys off the bench. Why change two areas of our game? If I did that, I'd change the starters' chemistry and the bench's' chemistry.”
Thabeet played the first six minutes of the game and did not return for the remainder of the second half as both teams played a heavy amount of small ball. Collison played eight first-half minutes.
Brooks said before the game that he wasn't looking for much out of Thabeet.
“Obviously, we're not going to him to score 15, 20 points,” Brooks said. “He's going to have to defend, block shots, alter shots and get in the way of their penetrating players. And he has the ability to do that.”
Just before tip-off Wednesday, news broke that the Rockets had parted with four players in a three-team trade involving Sacramento and Phoenix. Houston was down to 10 available players after parting with Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas. … With Perkins moving to the inactive list, Lamb was activated Wednesday against the Rockets. Lamb spent the final days before the All-Star break recovering from a low back strain. He has now recovered and has resumed basketball activities. … The Rockets made eight of their first 10 3-pointers and then missed their next 10.