Scott Brooks is doing his best to keep this seasonâ€™s starting lineup under wraps.
And the Oklahoma City Thunder coach is loving being in a position to play possum.
When a reporter at Thursday morningâ€™s shootaround asked Brooks whether the team will indeed debut its starting lineup in tonightâ€™s preseason finale against New Orleans, Brooks caught himself before spilling the beans.
â€œWeâ€™ll see,â€ a laughing Brooks said. â€œClose. You almost had me.â€
Brooks proceeded to run down his starting five for tonightâ€™s game â€” Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
â€œSame starters as last season,â€ Brooks said.
Weâ€™ll have to wait until Wednesdayâ€™s regular season opener to see if Brooks is ready to tinker with the starting lineup that sparked the teamâ€™s 50-win season a year ago. The two most likely candidates to crack the starting unit if Brooks decides to make a change are shooting guard James Harden and power forward/center Serge Ibaka. Both second-year players have been impact performers throughout the preseason and appear ready for larger roles, no matter how the minutes come.
Harden has averaged 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.8 steals in 29.5 minutes. Ibaka, who Brooks said will not play tonight, has averaged 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots in 27 minutes. Harden has shown he is equally adept at playing a secondary role alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as he is in taking charge and making plays for himself and others. The 2009 No. 3 overall pick has attempted a team-leading 49 free throws, connecting on 44, in six exhibition games and leads the team with 17 steals.
â€œHe just has more confidence,â€ Brooks said. â€œHe understands the league. He understands the personnel that heâ€™s against. Itâ€™s one of the hardest things as rookies, just understanding who youâ€™re playing against and how good they are.â€
Ibaka, meanwhile, has shown more polish offensively on the low block in addition to better awareness on the defensive end.
Darnell Mayberry's notes from shootaround