By Randy Renner
In case you've forgotten, and with all the angst over the Thunder defense (?) lately perhaps you have, but tonight will be the first time Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley have been on a basketball court together since Beverley wrecked Westbrook's right knee and ruined the Thunder playoff chances last season.
Westbrook has gone on to have three knee surgeries since and Beverley has become Public Enemy #1 in Oklahoma City and has quickly gained a reputation around the NBA as a cheap shot artist.
Westbrook was made available to the media after the Thunder's shootaround session today but he was in no mood to talk about Beverley or the incident.
"No more questions about that," Westbrook answered after the second question about his feelings toward the Rockets' guard.
Westbrook may not have wanted to talk about it but most everyone else is and it will be fascinating to watch what happens between those two on the court tonight and you can bet the officiating crew will be paying close attention too.
There was a little bit of good news at today's shootaround. Both Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, who've been sidelined with injuries, were out on the court when reporters walked in.
Both were going through some light shooting drills and moving around. Yesterday Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said he "didn't know" when either player would be able to get back to playing games but it's believed they will each miss at least the rest of this month.
But just seeing them on the floor had to be encouraging because right now the Thunder seem defenseless without them.
The Thunder are 3-5 since the All-Star break and a defense that had been one of the tops in the NBA appears to be in tatters, giving up a whopping 110.2 points a game on almost 48 percent shooting during that stretch and allowing opponents to hit almost 11 3-pointers a game.
The Rockets come in rolling, having won 15 of their last 17 and 23 of 29 since New Year's Day. Houston hasn't lost a game since the calendar turned when scoring at least 100 points.
In contrast the Thunder have averaged 115 points in their last four losses, all coming since the All-Star break.
It could make for an ugly scene and a game that could be over early.
Of course that's what everyone thought the last time these teams met, when Houston put a stunning 73 points on the board in the first half against what was then a very good Thunder defense. OKC went on to one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history when they allowed Houston just 19 points in the second half to get the win.
The Thunder clobbered the Rockets early in the season when they met at The Peake.
Lately though the Rockets have beaten the other big boys of the NBA, Miami, San Antonio, Indiana and Portland.
Now it's the Thunder's turn but this time around they'll be missing Perkins, who has hounded Rockets' big man Dwight Howard since their days in the Eastern Conference and Sefolosha who's been locking up James Harden since the two practiced against each other as teammates.
Right now we have to get better without those two guys," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said yesterday after practice. "We don't know when they're coming back so we have to find ways to improve and get better on that end. We still have enough defensive guys that we should be able to get back to the level we're capable of playing."
A three hour practice session yesterday, the longest of the season, may have helped also.
"We needed to get back on the court, feel the basketball, smell the gym but we also wanted to get some improvement at what we need to get better at in the film room and I think we did that," Brooks said.
But a few minutes later, Thunder forward Nick Collison didn't sound so sure.
"We'll see," was about as optimistic as Collison would be as to whether the Thunder will be able to actually accomplish what they know they have to do.
"We have another tough test, another team that's going to play up-tempo with a lot of guys who are going to drive and kick, similar to the Lakers," Collison said. "So we'll see if we can play better."