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.