Center Nazr Mohammed
made his first start for the Thunder, and the difference was noticeable on Indiana’s first possession Wednesday night. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mohammed held both hands high and applied the defensive clamps to 7-foot-2 Pacers center Roy Hibbert along the baseline, shutting off any shooting option and forcing Hibbert to pass the ball back out.
The Pacers quickly found themselves trailing 10-0 and never got closer than seven points in a 113-89 romp during which the Thunder built its biggest lead of the season (35).
“Nazr played great defense,” said fellow newcomer Nate Robinson
. “He kept making it tough for them. He set the tempo early. He let it be known pretty much what he can do.”
*Though he stands two inches shorter than former Thunder starter Nenad Krstic
, Mohammed’s physical presence and wingspan are far superior.
Keep in mind, Mohammed is 30 pounds lighter than future starter Kendrick Perkins, who also stands 6-foot-10. Imagine how noticeable Perkins will be when the Thunder has its future starting lineup intact. Also keep in mind, the Pacers are the No. 8 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Thunder had to go to overtime to beat them in this year’s previous meeting in Indiana.
* Mohammed and Robinson both received warm receptions, and they closed out the game together.
Mohammed was introduced third in pregame introductions and received a roar when drawing a foul while trying to dunk his first attempt. Robinson entered with 1:47 left in the second quarter. His first shot was an air-ball. His second was a backdoor layup.
“It was cool,” Robinson said of his debut. “My first shot was kind of shaky, but it’s all right. They gave me an ovation, a lot of love, and I really appreciate it.”
Mohammed played 22 minutes and finished with eight points, seven rebounds, one steal and five fouls. Robinson played eight minutes and had six points, one assist, one rebound and three fouls.
*Robinson was an immediate hit on the Thunder bench, applauding the success of teammates and adding his unique touch with multiple celebrations for 3-pointers, which drew laughter from fans seated near the bench.
“It’s just energy, man. Positive energy,” Robinson said. “The guys have taken a liking to me. They’re so young around here, and they’re energetic. That’s what you have to be on this team.”
One of the more surprising combinations included Mohammed and rookie center Cole Aldrich
playing at the same time, with Aldrich playing power forward for the first time in his career at any level.
*Get used to Robinson’s pre-shot routine at the free-throw line of wrapping the ball around his back three times before shooting.
* Without realizing it, the sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Oklahoma City Arena showed this state’s collegiate mentality. When former North Carolina standout Tyler Hansbrough checked in, he was greeted with boos. Hansbrough has done nothing to warrant boos as a pro.
*The Thunder made its first 19 free throws of the game. Its first miss came on the first attempt in the third quarter (Russell Westbrook).
Rookies and second-year players on NBA rosters are allowed three separate stints in the Developmental League. Aldrich and Byron Mullens have made two trips this season, and both are expected to return to Tulsa at some point.
When deciding to send one of his players down to the D-League, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he takes into account the Thunder's upcoming schedule, but also the 66ers' schedule.
“We look at those factors, and Sam,” Brooks said, referring to Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “Sam really focuses in on that, and we both talk about it. I feel it's been very helpful for both (Aldrich and Mullens) to go to Tulsa. Those trips to Tulsa have been good for us, but we've added a couple of good bigs (in Perkins and Mohammed), so there aren't a lot of available minutes with us.”
“I'm not athletic. Don't put me in that bunch. I have average athleticism. He's an athlete. I'm decent. I'm fast enough, but not fast.” – Mohammed on the difference between him and Serge Ibaka, who had 12 rebounds and six blocks against the Pacers.