Brooks: "I'm concerned, but..."

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder once again struggled to do things right and lost this time to the Utah Jazz 105-91 to finish the preseason at 2-5.

Preseason games usually don't mean very much and this season they probably mean even less with as much as the Thunder have had to piece together lineups because of all the injuries.

One big bright spot tonight was Nick Collison getting back in the lineup and he showed up in a big way hitting two 3-pointers and another jumper to finish with eight points. Russell Westbrook also had a nice night with 14 points and 11 assists.

Otherwise there wasn't much good goin on.

The Thunder sent Jazz players to the free throw line 41 times and the Jazzmen hit 30 of those shots. The Thunder meanwhile got to the line 26 times and hit an embarrassing 13 of those. When the other team makes more free throws than you attempt that's usually not a good sign.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks gave credit to Utah but also said, "we have a lot of things we have to tighten up on. We had some bright spots offensively, but defensively we have things we need to work on."

Some of these preseason losses have been ugly and Brooks was asked how concerned he is heading into the regular season.

"I'm concerned," Brooks admitted, "but I'm not down on the guys. We're still trying to figure some things out."

Like for instance who's gonna start at shooting guard, small forward and center and who's gonna be in the rotations. And in order to do that with any certainty it'd be kinda nice to have some guys come off the injury list.

Hopefully this week Reggie Jackson will be back to full strength and hopefully sometime soon Kendrick Perkins will be able to practice. Jeremy Lamb missed the Utah game with a thumb injury and of course you know Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary won't be out of their foot casts till sometime around Thanksgiving and on and on it goes.

But back to that bright spot.

"I felt really good out there," Nick Collison told a group of reporters in the lockerroom. "That's the first time I've been able to play 5-on-5 this preseason. It just feels good to be back."

Collison also sees the problems his team is dealing with but doesn't see any quick fixes.

"We definitely have some work to do. We have to have more consistency on both ends of the floor. Fundamentally there's a lot of breakdowns, so we just have a lot of work to do."

Some of those breakdowns can be attributed to younger players playing increased minutes and different roles than they've gotten used to. It can also be attributed to all the mixing and matching that's had to go on because of all the injuries.

Most of the problems have shown up on defense where Collison and Perkins and Serge Ibaka for a while too have not been able to practice.

"I'm glad the games are over," Brooks said, "so we can focus now on practice. We need to get our starting lineup set and tighten up our rotations."

Brooks has started Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow, Ibaka and Steven Adams the last three preseason games and that may very well be the lineup he sends out on the floor to start the regular season next Wednesday night in Portland.

That starting five finished with 51 points, Westbrook and Ibaka each with 14, Morrow with 11, Adams with nine and Roberson with three. Perry Jones came off the bench to score 20.

The Thunder played well in spurts and then collapsed only to play well again for another spurt.

Inconsistency has become constant.

That's something this team is probably going to have to live with the first part of the season but every effort will be made to tighten up all the loose ends.

"We just have to get better," said the old veteran Collison and then he added, "but we have our work cut out for us."

 

No Jackson or Lamb Tonight For Thunder

By Randy Renner

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks will once again go with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams as his starting five. That same group is making its third straight start together.

Brooks says although, "I like what I've seen so far," from that five-some he refused to say he's leaning that same direction to start the regular season.

"We still have several more practices to go," the head coach pointed out.

He seemed even more hesitant to anoint Adams with the starting center spot but he seems clear that Adams will be in that spot when the season begins next week because Kendrick Perkins still hasn't fully participated in a practice and is still hampered by that strained quad.

Brooks did get a little bit of good injury news today. Nick Collison will be able to make his preseason debut after having to sit out with a sprained ankle. Reggie Jackson is close to being back in the lineup but isn't quite ready for tonight. Brooks felt pretty sure that Reggie will be good to go by the beginning of the regular season.

Jeremy Lamb will sit for the second straight game with a thumb injury, Brooks said he's not sure how long Lamb will have to miss. So it seems just as the Thunder get someone back off the injury list someone else goes on it.

Because of all the injuries he said tonight it's possible the team will keep one of the four training camp signees. The Thunder have an open roster spot and Brooks said he's really been impressed with all four guys and that all four of them would get extensive playing time tonight against the Jazz.

Check back after the game for a video wrap-up featuring comments from Coach Brooks and the players. And be sure to monitor our feed page for game updates because once again tonight there is no TV broadcast.

Durant In Good Spirits As Recovery Continues

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant spoke with reporters for about 10 minutes this morning as his recovery from foot surgery continues.

Among other things Durant said everything is going well with his recovery and he's looking forward to being re-evaluated five weeks from Thursday.

He's hoping to get a good progress report then and be able to start preparing for a return to the court, but he also said he will not rush the process, "I definitely don't want to rush it."

Here is the audio of today's news conference.

Thunder Don't Have An Easy Hand To Play

By Randy Renner

It's plenty bad enough when your superstar player who happens to be the best scorer on the planet and the reigning NBA MVP is sidelined for several weeks with foot surgery.

But now the impact of Kevin Durant's injury is compounded by all the others.

At times this preseason as many as nine regular roster players have been on the injury list forcing guys who were signed primarily to be extra bodies during training camp practices to actually play important minutes in preseason games and take over important roles in practice.

It's not a good situation to be in for a coach who already had wide open competitions at shooting guard and center.

It's not an easy hand to play and it certainly won't win you many ball games but it is what it is and Scott Brooks is trying to make the best of it.

"I thought today's practice was one of our best," Brooks told reporters. "We wanted to clean up some things was saw (Sunday night), I thought the players were locked in on the areas we needed to improve. We just need to continue to gain confidence within the group that we have."

Brooks is hoping to get his team healthy (or at least healthier) soon.

"Reggie (Jackson) practiced today, we'll see how he feels tomorrow and we'll make a decision on whether he plays (Tuesday night against Utah) but he did practice. Nick (Collison) participated in a little more than half of the practice so we'll see how he feels too."

Kendrick Perkins still hasn't fully practiced and of course promising rookie forward Mitch McGary is on a similar timeline as Durant with his broken foot.

"That's part of it and now we're able to see how our young guys and guys trying to make the team respond. It's unfortunate about Mitch because this would have been a great opportunity for him, but that's what it is right now."

And Brooks takes a little solace in knowing (surely to goodness) that guys will get healthy.

"I don't look at it as this is what we're gonna be for the rest of the season, yes we have a lot of things to get better at but we've also done a lot of good things when we had a lot of our (regular) guys in."

One of the pleasant surprises so far is seeing just how much of a competitor on both ends of the floor Anthony Morrow has been. Brooks has always known Morrow to be a dead-eye shooter but now he sees him as much more than just a 3-point specialist.

"You have to be able to compete defensively to be able to get minutes, simple as that," Brooks underscored. "Offensive players who don't compete on the defensive end have trouble playing and one thing I love about him is he competes on the defensive end."

Morrow says he's always been that way.

"I've been like that my whole life. This is a team I really wanted to play for because I figured they'd get after me and that's a way for me to get better. To come in and actually get a chance to guard guys like Kevin and Russell (Westbrook) and Reggie, those kinda guys, guys that push me every day, it can only help me in the long run."

Morrow has played different roles on different teams and it's beginning to look more and more like his role on this Thunder team, at least for the next few weeks, will be starting in place of Durant at small forward.

Is that a role he's comfortable with?

"That's something I've had to do in the past, when I came into the league was was guarding guys like Stephen Jackson and Cory Maggette so I leaned a lot from them early on and I played a lot of small forward my first couple years in the league."

Morrow said again today what he's said since he first arrived in Oklahoma City and was asked about his role, "whatever coach wants."

That's the type of attitude Brooks appreciates and the kind of attitude most all of his players have.

Now if just a few more of them would get healthy.



Thunder Need To Get Their Act Together

By Randy Renner

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook plays with fierce passion. That can be a good thing and that can be a bad thing.

For several seconds Sunday night in Tulsa it was very bad indeed.

Westbrook's passion can fuel the Thunder. At times he can absolutely take a game over and provide just the spark his team needed.

We've all seen it, we all admire it, we're all amazed by it.

But that passion and fire has a way of backfiring and we've all seen that too. If officials calls don't go his way he sometimes has a tendency to argue the call even as play continues. Last night in Tulsa he drove into the lane and was hit as he made his move to the basket but no whistles were blown, no foul calls made.

Instead of getting up and getting back into the fray while his Thunder teammates battled for the rebound, he just sat there on the baseline and the Minnesota Timberwolves had a 5-4 advantage.

Minnesota went on to win the game 112-94 thanks in large part to 23 OKC turnovers and a lineup that continues to be racked by injuries and in a constant state of flux.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, who has called Westbrook the "best point guard in basketball," said his star can't keep flying off the handle.

"He's going to have to do a better job of controlling his emotions. You're not going to get (a call) on every foul that's committed on you and he knows better than that."

At least he should. Westbrook also picked up another technical foul, his third in the last three games.

With Kevin Durant out for the next several weeks, Westbrook is now the leader of this team and the example he set last night is not one anyone should follow.

As far the game itself Brooks again went with the starting lineup of Westbrook at point guard, Andre Roberson at shooting guard, Anthony Morrow at small forward, Serge Ibaka at power forward and Steven Adams at center.

It's looking more and more like that may be the group that hits the floor first in Portland on Opening Night next week though Brooks is quick to point out "we have one more game and several practices," left before the regular season opener.

Perry Jones led the Thunder in scoring last night, coming off the bench to play 30 minutes and score 21 points. He also pulled down eight rebounds.

Morrow scored 14 points but suffered through his worst shooting night of the preseason going just 5-for-13 overall and 0-for-5 on threes.

Ibaka regained his shooting touch last night going 5-for-7 and scoring 12 points but the duo of Adams and Roberson looked more like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha as Adams took just two shots and scored four points while Roberson added two points.

The Thunder shot just 41 percent overall and 22 percent from deep.

They handed out just 15 assists compared to those 23 turnovers.

A lot of the inconsistency can be attributed to the different lineups that have had to play and the crazy rotations that have been used because of all the team's injury issues.

Nick Collison hasn't played or practiced yet and neither has Perkins. Reggie Jackson has been out for more than a week with a bruised wrist. Four training camp signees are getting more minutes than usual because of all that.

Hopefully this week some of the Thunder's walking wounded will be able to get back out on the practice floor and sharpen up their games before next week's opening road trip to Portland and Los Angeles.

Coach Brooks is right, there's still one more preseason game(at home Tuesday night against Utah) and several practices left before the team has to get on the plane for the west coast but there is no time to waste and especially no time for the All-Star point guard to sit down on the job while his teammates play on.