The Thunder is seeking its fourth straight win Sunday night when Cleveland makes its lone visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But don't expect the Thunder to overlook the 2-4 Cavs.
“It kind of had me scared today in the film room the way the coaches were,” said center Kendrick Perkins. “I thought we were playing the damn Dream Team.”
Cleveland shocked OKC last season, winning by six on the Thunder's home court. The Cavs are even better this year, with reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving now flanked by this year's fourth overall pick Dion Waiters.
“They're 20 years old and they're doing things that most 20-year-olds are not able to do,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They read the game. They see the game at a very good pace. Their pick-and-roll game is some of the best in basketball, and they shoot the ball very well. Both guys are big time NBA 3-point shooters.”
The Thunder's biggest concern is the Cavs' pick-and-roll.
“They are the best pick-and-roll team in the league,” Perkins said. “You've got Waiters and you got Irving who can come off and pull up at the 3 at any time. I think Irving's shooting 46 percent. Waiters is shooting 52 percent from 3, and they both can split the pick-and-roll, get in the paint and cause havoc. So it's a lot on the bigs.”
Cavs center Anderson Varejao also is healthy this time around. He missed last year's game with a broken wrist. But he's been on a tear to start this season, averaging 14 points and 14 rebounds. His presence will only put more pressure on a Thunder team that has struggled to rebound this season. OKC got out-rebounded last year by Cleveland 51-40 without Varejao in the lineup.
“He's just non-stop energy,” Perkins said of Varejao. “I think we've just got to control him, just maintain him. I think we've got to put a body on him, bump him up early a little bit. We just got to make it a grind game.”
SCRUTINIZING WESTBROOK'S SHOOTING STRUGGLES
Russell Westbrook continues to struggle shooting the ball in the early part of this season, but Brooks said Saturday that he isn't concerned.
Westbrook is shooting just 36.4 percent from the floor and 25 percent from behind the 3-point line. Despite Westbrook averaging four 3-point attempts, which are 1.2 per game fewer than Kevin Martin's team-leading average, and 1.2 per game more than Kevin Durant, Brooks didn't express any uneasiness about how Westbrook is performing thus far.
“I just think anytime that you start a season you're going to have some guys that are not shooting the ball well and you're going to have some guys that start off hot,” Brooks said. “Always with Russell, it's how he finishes. And he's a much-improved shooter. After six games, I wouldn't look anything into it other than he hasn't shot the ball (well) in the first six games.”
Most found it strange to see Perkins pressing Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight the length of the court Friday night.
But get used to it.
“We just put that in,” Brooks joked. “‘The Perk.' ‘The Perkinator.' He was all over the place. He had a lot of energy and it was good.”
Brooks then explained the method behind what appeared to be madness, saying Perkins' ball pressure could be utilized largely because Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were not threats to beat a sagging Perkins by initiating the offense.
“We do that with certain teams, (what) we call shadow the backcourt with certain bigs that we don't feel that are comfortable enough handling the ball, bringing the ball up and making plays,” Brooks said. “There are some bigs that do, like (Joakim) Noah, for instance, in Chiacgo. We didn't want to do that with him because he's a guy that can bring it up the court and make a good play out of it.”
Perkins said he also was trying to use the strategy to fire himself up.
“I got to get myself going, man,” Perkins said. “I feel like sometimes you've got to bring the energy some kind of way and find a way to get it going. I had to get myself going. I didn't like my performance the night before in Chicago. So I just kind of wanted to set the tone and kind of be all over the court and try to bring it every night. So it's something that I'm trying to bring to the table.”
Hasheem Thabeet did not practice Saturday. He is doubtful against the Cavs…Perkins celebrated his 28th birthday Saturday with a serenade of “Happy Birthday” from rookie Jeremy Lamb…Cleveland ranked 27th in points allowed through Friday's games at 103 per game… OKC has registered at least 20 assists in four straight games…Going into Saturday's games, Irving ranked fourth in the league in scoring at 23.3 points per game…This is the second of eight Sunday home games the Thunder will play this season.