Westbrook Breaks Finger, Likely Out 4-6 Weeks

By Randy Renner

You have to wonder now, especially since it's Halloween, just who in the heck is sticking pins in voodoo dolls dressed in Thunder uniforms.

How else can you explain this?

Many of you probably saw point guard Russell Westbrook hurt his right hand last night in the second quarter of the Thunder's game with the Clippers. You might not have stayed up long enough to hear that Westbrook had been diagnosed with a broken bone (the second metacarpal) in his right hand.

So now the Thunder have seven of their 15 players on the injury list, including both their superstars as Westbrook joins Kevin Durant (who has a broken foot) on the bench in street clothes.

"It's just really pretty unbelievable, you're kind of shocked almost," admitted Thunder forward Nick Collison to reporters after the game. Collison was on that lengthy injury list himself most of training camp with a sprained ankle.

The Thunder have played surprisingly well in their first two games, leading Portland through three quarters before losing Wednesday night and keeping things close with the Clippers in Los Angeles last night before losing 93-90.

But now without Durant and Westbrook you have to wonder how in the world the Thunder can keep their heads above water in the ultra competitive Western Conference.

"It's unfortunate the way it is right now, but that's the way it is," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. "We have to figure it out together."

One thing the Thunder can do is get a little bit of relief through the NBA's hardship rule. A team must have at least four players who will miss at least two weeks of playing time and who have already missed at least three games.

On Saturday, the Thunder will qualify with Durant, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all having missed their third game and all projected to be sidelined for at least another month or so.

Westbrook is also expected to miss at least a month and Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are on the injured list too but Jackson could come back from his sprained ankle Saturday and Lamb (strained back) might be able to make the next road trip.

Collison could only shake his head at this latest incredible injury news.

"It's not funny at all," he said without even the hint of a smile, "but you almost have to laugh about it because it's so many guys."





Westbrook Shines But Thunder Fade In Fourth

By Randy Renner

The shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder looked surprisingly good for three quarters last night in Portland, unfortunately they have to play four in the NBA.

The Thunder managed just 12 points in that final stanza and lost to the Trail Blazers 105-89.

The final score was pretty much what most NBA media members and probably most fans, figured it would be. The surprise was how well the Thunder managed to hang in for the first 36 minutes.

"I thought our guys played their hearts out," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks after the game. "We didn't play well in that fourth quarter, a few too many breakdowns, buit I thought we played hard."

Point guard Russell Westbrook had 26 points by halftime and was in complete control of the game. In the second half the Blazers switched up defensive assignments, putting Nicolas Batum on Westbrook and that began changing the game. Russ finished with 38 points but he was just 4-for-13 in the final 24 minutes after going 7-for-13 from the field and 12-for-13 from the free throw line in the first 24 minutes.

The Thunder actually led by two points going into the fourth quarter but fatigue began to creep in and the poor play of Perry Jones for the entire game and even Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams at times finally doomed the Thunder.

Jones, filling in for the injured Kevin Durant, managed just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. Ibaka scored 10 and was just 4-for-11 and was abused by Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had 27 points. Adams finished with eight points and seven rebounds but appeared lost at times both offensively and defensively.

The biggest individual surprise had to be Lance Thomas, who was brought in originally only for training camp. All the Thunder injuries prompted the team to sign one of the four players they brought in for camp and Thomas was the one because he showed the most promise.

Last night in Portland Thomas scored 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. 10 of those points came in the first quarter when Thomas seemed to be everywhere.

The way Thomas played last night you'd think he's earned more playing time, maybe even when the Thunder get some guys back off the ever expanding injury list.

Jones' play was probably the most disappointing. He was never a factor on either end of the floor. He played really well in a couple of preseason games and he needs to show something other than what we saw last night now that the games count.

Overall, last night's performance was better than what I expected. There were some encouraging signs. And tip your hat to Westbrook because he was superb most all night, forcing the Blazers to alter their defensive plan time and again until they finally settled on Batum.

As great as Russ was last night and as good as he can be moving forward he cannot do it by himself, guys like Jones will have to play better. More points and better defense is needed from Ibaka, whose performance was probably the second most disappointing behind Jones.

The Thunder desperately need to get Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb back in the lineup, those two of course didn't even make the trip.

So don't expect things to be any better tonight when the Thunder take on the LA Clippers. In fact since it's the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder probably won't be able to hang in with the Clippers as long as they did with the Blazers.

Hopefully Jackson and Lamb will be able to get back on the floor Saturday night for the Thunder's home opener against Denver. That would at least give them a fighting chance. Until then it will be a very tough go.





Shorthanded Thunder Face Tall Task In Portland

By Randy Renner

When the NBA schedule came out back in the dog days of summer and we saw the Thunder would begin out west with a back-to-back against the Trail Blazers and Clippers, follow that up with a home game against the Nuggets and another road back-to-back in Brooklyn and Toronto and top it all off with the Grizzlies at home it figured to be a difficult challenge.

And that was when the days were sunny and bright and the Thunder were healthy.

Now everything has changed.

A fall chill is in the air and the cold reality is the Thunder will take the court with just 3/5ths of their roster available. Just nine of the team's 15 players will be in uniform tonight, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb the latest additions to the injury list didn't even make the trip.

Despite the shortcomings Thunder coach Scott Brooks says, "Nothing changes. Whether we have the entire team or we don’t have the entire team, you still have to go out there and compete. We have to take care of the basketball. We have to get back in transition defense. We have to get into our pick and roll coverage. We have to box out at the free throw line.”

And the Thunder will hope to do all that without getting anyone else hurt and, "knock on wood that we don't have foul trouble which is very uncommon in an NBA game," Brooks noted.

And against a very talented and healthy Portland team foul trouble could be an issue. Andre Roberson, an aggressive, defensive minded player gets the start at shooting guard and Steven Adams who has a history of getting into foul trouble gets the start at center.

The Thunder will only have four players on the bench.

Free agent signee Sebastian Telfair is the only perimeter player. He'll be Russell Westbrook's backup and maybe Roberson's too. The front court is in a little better shape with Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Lance Thomas but Collison is the only one of those guys in a familiar role.

Perkins has been a starter most all of his career and Thomas is in his first season with the Thunder after signing a contract coming out of training camp. He played in five games last season with New Orleans and is in his fourth NBA season. Telfair is also in his first Thunder season and played last season in China.

Brooks and Thunder GM Sam Presti have said the Thunder will have to try to win games with defense since most of the team's offense is stuck on the bench. Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season, Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 and Anthony Morrow averaged 8.4 points and was being counted on for more like 10-12 this season with OKC. Throw in the 8.5 points a game Jeremy Lamb averaged and that's right about 65 missing points.

Westbrook, Adams and Serge Ibaka will have to have big nights and Brooks likes what he's seen so far of Adams and Ibaka together on the floor.

“They’re going to complement each other well,” Brooks said. “Serge is one of the best bigs as a shooter in the league and Steven does a great job of rolling and catching around the rim. He’s a developing player and still has his best basketball ahead of him.”

Westbrook has already developed a nice two-man game between himself and Adams and he's also set up Ibaka nicely in the past. But that trio can't just show up on offense. They'kll have to play well on both ends of the floor for the Thunder to stay close because the Trail Blazers can score a lot of points.

Last season they were the 2nd most efficient offense in the NBA, scoring 111.5 points per 100 possessions. The Thunder would like to hold teams to about 102 points per 100. When they accomplished that last season they were on the high side of the score 92 percent of time.

With this lineup though, that will be a big challenge. In the preseason, which under normal circumstances isn't a good way to measure much of anything, the Thunder allowed teams to shoot 48.4 percent and score 110.9 points per game.

The same sort of patched together lineups and rotations that played during those preseason games will be on the floor tonight so those early October numbers might actually be more reflective of what we might see now and for the first few weeks of the regular season.

Tipoff is set for about 9:40 Oklahoma time tonight. It will be the second game of an ESPN national double-header. You can also see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.





Adams Wins Center Job, Jackson & Lamb To Miss Trip

By Randy Renner

A new era begins for Thunder basketball tomorrow night, a new starting center by choice, a new shooting guard mostly by choice and a new small forward by necessity.

Second year man Steven Adams beat out veteran Kendrick Perkins for the starting center spot and second year man Andre Roberson gets the nod at shooting guard, though injuries to Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb might have played a small role in that decision. Perry Jones will start at small forward with Kevin Durant on the shelf recovering from foot surgery.

Jackson and Lamb are not flying with the team to Portland because of the injuries they suffered in Monday's practice. Jackson sprained his right ankle and Lamb hurt his back. Jackson was seen after practice doing some light shooting on the court, Lamb was not on the floor when media members were allowed in.

Adams had been the talk of training camp and the early preseason when he scored 15, 19 and 22 points in his first three games. His point production slid off dramatically as the preseason continued but his overall play remained solid.

"Both Steven and Perk are a big part of what we do," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters. "I've never looked at Perk's stats as a barometer of if he's played well or not. He's been a winner for a long time in this league. He's done everything I've ever asked."

But Perkins was hampered this training camp because of a strained quad. He didn't get back on the floor till the last week and by then Adams had shown he had vastly improved his game.

Just yesterday Perkins said starting or coming off the bench, "really don't matter," being there at the finish was more important to him. That and having an opportunity to show he had improved his game too.

Brooks said today he will have that chance.

"We're gonna need both of 'em to play well," Brooks said.

In fact Brooks is going to need all the guys he has available to not only play well but maybe play the best basketball of their lives. Perry Jones we're lookin' at you and you too Andre Roberson.

Those two guys are being given starting jobs. Roberson was the odds on favorite to win the open spot at shooting guard but Jones is there because of Durant's injury.

Jones has shown flashes 15 points here, 20 points there, double digit rebounds a couple of times. He's disappeared too and that can't happen anymore, not with the injury situation that Thunder has for the first six weeks or so of the season.

Just nine players will make the road trip to Portland and Los Angeles, one of those nine, forward Lance Thomas, won his contract in training camp.

So it's a brave new world for the Thunder, three new starters and a thin bench with guys still learning about each other. It's not the best way to start a season especially when you have to play two road back-to-backs in the opening week.

"Nothing changes," Brooks promised, "whether you have your entire team or you don't have it you still have to compete."

He seemed confident what's left of the team that many had penciled in as an NBA Finals favorite would be able to do that. Competing and winning? That's probably asking too much at least for now.

Perk Says, "It Really Don't Matter," If He Starts Or Not

Kendrick Perkins sharpens his trademark stare before a game last season at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Photo by Torrey Purvey for InsideThunder.com

Kendrick Perkins sharpens his trademark stare before a game last season at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Photo by Torrey Purvey for InsideThunder.com

By Randy Renner

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins spoke with reporters for the first time since media day and as usual delivered a candid conversation and graciously answered some tough questions.

Perk said, "I ain't gonna lie, I'm nervous," about the future as he heads into the final year of his contract. He said he doesn't know yet how much playing time he'll get in games or "whether I'm startin' or comin' off the bench," and then he dropped this little nugget. "To me it really don't even matter, I just want an opportunity to play."

When training camp opened Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters the shooting guard and center spots were open and as camp progressed and preseason games were played it became clear that second year center Steven Adams had progressed enough to legitimately lay claim to the starting job.

Of course it was mostly a one man competition because Perkins couldn't practice or play in games because of a quad muscle he strained the week before camp began.

He's been back in practice now for almost a week.

"I feel well just condition-wise, my body weight's down so I feel good. I'm just ready to get in a game and just get some bump and grind."

Perkins also revealed that even though he was the starting center last season he wasn't very happy because he wasn't finishing games.

"I started all of the games last year that I played in but didn't play in nearly as much of the fourth quarters that I wanted to play in. A lot of games I was unhappy cuz I ain't played in the fourth quarter, probably because I didn't deserve to play so I wanna give him (Brooks) a reason that I should play in the fourth."

Perkins' minutes declined dramatically last season with the emergence of Adams and Perk admits the big Kiwi, "is playin' well. I watched Steven all summer he's been comin' in, gettin' his work in and playin' really well and he's a good dude man."

So at least publically Perkins isn't lighting any controversy fires over whether he or Adams should be introduced as the starting center.

Again with Perk it's not about starting, it's about finishing.

"Since I've been here the only thing I've been trying to embrace on the whole organization and on the young guys is just how to win. Since I've been here that's all I've been doing."

Perkins knows his future is on the line whether its here in Oklahoma City or somewhere else.

"It's a big year, once you get on the court you're not only auditioning for the Thunder you're auditioning for the other teams in the league."

Brooks didn't drop any hints with reporters as to whether he's leaning toward Perkins or Adams to be the Thunder starting center, nor did he drop any hints as to which would be finishing center in close games.

No matter the label Perk made it clear what he wants.

"All I wanna do is get an opportunity."

Brooks will certainly give him that, what the big man is able to do with it is another of this season's big unknowns.