By Randy Renner
After a long, looooong summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to get back on an NBA basketball court and play a real game. Or at least something kinda close to a real game.
The pre-season schedule opens tonight in Minneapolis, the same place where the Thunder ended the 2014-15 regular season back last April.
That night a wounded Thunder team, led by Dion Waiters season-high 33 points, blistered the T-Wolves 138-113. The Thunder were missing both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, who were continuing to recover from season ending surgeries, but they were playing for their playoff lives. Shortly after OKC dispatched Minnesota the San Antonio Spurs lost to New Orleans giving the Pelicans 8th seed in the playoffs and ending the Thunder's season early.
Tonight Durant and Ibaka are back and both will start along with Russell Westbrook. The rest of the Thunder's starting lineup, especially the shooting guard spot, is up for debate even among the coaches.
"I think we're probably gonna talk a little bit more about that," head coach Billy Donovan told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "I would say there could be different starting lineups coming in and out of the half than what started the game there."
Donovan had Andre Roberson, who started most of last season's games at shooting guard, in that spot on Sunday at the team's annual blue/white scrimmage and with all the talk about setting a defensive identity early in games Roberson would be the obvious choice again. But Dion Waiters showed off more of a desire to pitch in on the defensive end in that scrimmage and more of a willingness to pass to open teammates so don't be surprised if Waiters starts the second half at shooting guard.
The other question is at center where Steven Adams would likely would start if he's healthy but, he probably won't play tonight because of a sore back. Enes Kanter may get the nod, but Nick Collison, who started for the white team in place of Adams on Sunday could also get the nod tonight.
The Thunder did not include a probable starting lineup in the game notes for tonight's game. The T-Wolves, who are playing this season with assistant coach Sam Mitchell at the helm while Flip Saunders undergoes cancer treatments, has indicated he will start rookie Karl Anthony- Towns at center, Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Garnett at the forward spots Zach LaVine at shooting guard and Ricky Rubio at point guard.
The Thunder starters are expected to play 18 to 22 minutes or so and Donovan says he will probably switch up some of the rotations and perhaps do some experimenting with some guys playing different positions too.
"I think looking at different lineups will be important," Donovan said, "But you know a lot of that stuff with the lineups we're gonna have to come up with different packages for different alignments. If we wanna play D.J. (Augustin) and Russell together at times, if we wanna slide Kevin to the four spot, so there's still things that will evolve as we go forward."
Donovan is comfortable the team knows enough of the new offense and defense to make it through the game without any serious problems but he admits there's still a lot more to get in.
"We've got a good amount of stuff in but there's a lot more we need to do."
Tonight's game will be purely about the Thunder. The staff hasn't really spent any time studying the Timberwolves which is common at this point in the year.
Neither the Thunder nor the Timberwolves are providing a telecast of the game but you can hear it on the Thunder Radio Network. Oklahoma City will host Fenerbahce Ulker from Turkey at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday Night.