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Thunder to debut returning starting unit against Hornets

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: October 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm •  Published: October 21, 2010
Scott Brooks is doing his best to keep this season’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 morning’s shootaround asked Brooks whether the team will indeed debut its starting lineup in tonight’s preseason finale against New Orleans, Brooks caught himself before spilling the beans.

“We’ll see,” a laughing Brooks said. “Close. You almost had me.”

Brooks proceeded to run down his starting five for tonight’s game — Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

“Same starters as last season,” Brooks said.

We’ll have to wait until Wednesday’s regular season opener to see if Brooks is ready to tinker with the starting lineup that sparked the team’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.

“He just has more confidence,” Brooks said. “He understands the league. He understands the personnel that he’s against. It’s one of the hardest things as rookies, just understanding who you’re playing against and how good they are.”

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

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