In the final dress rehearsal, two stretches, each totaling roughly eight minutes, reminded of the magic and memories made a season ago.
For the first time since its Game 6 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on April 30, the Thunder trotted out its starting unit. And for the announced crowd of 16,541 inside the Oklahoma City Arena, the first five's performance in a 101-86 win over New Orleans rekindled the positive vibes experienced during last season's 50-win run, while also serving as a mouthwatering preview of how much better the boys could be this year.
Once again, there were jaw-dropping shots and happy-go-lucky fist-pumps from Kevin Durant.
Poster dunks from Jeff Green.
Unbridled emotion from Russell Westbrook — the point guard once breaking into an impromptu celebration from his back as he laid on the court, jubilantly kicking his feet and swinging his arms as he watched his assist lead to a 3-point play opportunity.
Most importantly, there was Nenad Krstic, the starting center who missed the team's first six preseason games after undergoing surgery on his right index finger on Sept. 21. With starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha — who previously had played in only two exhibition games because of a pinkie injury — also in the lineup, the Thunder raced past a resting Hornets team playing without star guard Chris Paul and starting center Emeka Okafor.
Because of New Orleans' patchwork rotation, everything on the final stat sheet, from the final score to the Hornets' 41.5 percent shooting, should be taken with a grain of salt. But there were plenty of reasons to be encouraged.
The Thunder's starters outscored their Hornets counterparts 17-9 in the game's opening 7 minutes, 36 seconds. Including the 8:03 of playing time the first group received at the start of the third quarter, OKC's starters assisted each other on 23 of the 32 points scored during their time together. They turned the ball over only five times over that same span, three of the giveaways coming in a particularly sloppy 1:38 stretch early in the third period.