- Tip-off: 7 p.m. CT
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TULSA – For a week, this mix of veteran-laden and young Thunder players have slogged it out with one another in practice, working towards the identity of how it wants to play.
Tonight, it will get its first shot at dissecting an opponent and working together as a group to execute a gameplan. The Houston Rockets visit the Thunder at the BOK Center in Tulsa tonight in the first preseason game of the season for Head Coach Billy Donovan’s crew. While the Thunder will hold itself to the same standards as a regular season affair, the group will be shorthanded compared to how it will hopefully look for all 82 games this season.
Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines all will not suit up for the Thunder, all recovering from minor left knee issues. Westbrook did, however, participate in contact portions of practice on Monday.
1-on-1: Terrance Ferguson
Backup point guard Raymond Felton will be with the other four projected starters against the Houston Rockets at the BOK Center. According to Head Coach Billy Donovan, Felton’s experience, intelligence and good nature have been huge assets thus far.
“(Felton) is smart and he’s bright,” Donovan noted. “The one thing with him is that he’s done an incredible job of investing with the younger players. He really has spent time with those guys, he talks to those guys and he helps those guys. He has a great presence on the court and a great presence in the locker room.”
The hope according to Felton is that once Westbrook is back in action and that he’s with the second unit, that the entire squad adopts the same identity. Rather than there being a separate style of play between groups, it’ll be a cohesive unit. Part of that identity will be defensive pressure. Felton has made a habit of pressuring opposing point guards in the backcourt, which often forces young reserve guards into mistakes.
“I’m doing that every night,” Felton said. “You can definitely look forward to that.”
“It shortens the clock for the other team,” Donovan said of the pressure. “It doesn’t allow them to get in offense as quickly. You’re dealing with less screening actions. He’s done it for a long time and he’s good at it. He kind of knows where to pick his spots. Him doing that sets a tempo defensively. I’d like him to be able to do that for us.”
Watch: Game Preview
As far as specifically guarding Houston, the rotations and substitution patterns, it’s probably a little bit early in preseason to truly try to go through a full-game preparation. The team is still gelling and getting used to one another given the new pieces in place.
The Thunder’s starters, including Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, will likely see a decent number of minutes in the first half tonight. Whether they play into the second half will be determined at the break when Donovan consults with his two All-Stars who will be in uniform. As for the rest of the guys, it will be a great chance to get into game action and show what their offseason regimen has produced, and how everyone might all fit together.
“You just get a chance to go against another opponent,” Donovan explained. “You get a chance to look at some film, learn from it and see how we can improve and get better.”