I am sure that the duly observant among you will notice that I am not Zorgon. Unfortunately, he is out of town for this one and asked me to provide the Game 6 recap in his place. I won't tell you where he went, but Zorgon, if you are reading this...mind the bears.
And like that, the Thunder wrap up their preseason with a bang.
And what a bang it was.
Despite missing three players (Aldrich, Ibaka, Collison) due to injury, Durantula and the Thunder cruise to an easy 101-86 victory over the most-loved opposing team ever, the New Orleans Hornets.
Seriously, even though the Hornets spent two seasons in OKC, I still can't believe how warmly the team is recieved every time they come here to play. Watching the Thunder play is like watching two groups of cousins duke it out in the backyard while you have problems getting the grill lit and your spouse is nagging you about how you should have just spent the extra money and gotten a gas grill.
Hey, I just prefer the taste of charcoal, alright?
My difficulties operating grills aside, the Hornets, who rested star Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor, were decimated by 23 Thunder fast break points versus their own 9. 14 turnovers by the Hornets certainly didn't help matters either. The Thunder took the lead to keep early (less than two minutes into the first) and the Hornets never recovered, tying briefly halfway through the first, but that was about it.
This game also marked the return of starting center Nenad Krstic, who missed the entire preseason due to finger surgery following his appearance at the FIBA World Championships.
Despite an impressive looking layup from a Westbrook shovel pass, Krstic's rust from missing all of training camp and the preseason was on full display, going 4/7 from the field and missing one free throw. Three defensive rebounds and three blocked shots, however, helped contribute to the Thunder's dominating performance.
What surprised me more was Byron Mullens' defensive showing. Despite having a very pedestrian night offensively (1/3 shooting, 3/6 free throws), the second year Ohio State product led OKC in total rebounds (9), defensive rebounds (7), tied with D.J. White for most offensive rebounds (2) and tied Krstic in blocks (3).
He also tied White with most personal fouls (5), but I digress...
We have been talking the entire preseason about Mullens' improvement and drive to make the roster, and tonight was quite a statement in favor of not sending him back to Tulsa. For a defense-minded team such as the Thunder, and with defensive specialist Thabo Sefalosha turning in a paltry 3 rebounds and no blocks, Mullens is certainly making his case.
I don't talk about Kevin Durant much because, really, do we really need to at this point? Durantula led the team with 19 points on the night, going 7/12 shooting with 5 rebounds and 8 assists. Fellow starters Westbrook (17 points) and Green (14 points) also turned in the solid performances we've come to expect from them.
Also making a statement tonight was the draft-day aquisition from Miami, Daequan Cook. Cook led the Thunder with 3 shots made beyond the arc, and turned in an additional 4/11 shooting and 2/2 free throws to lead the bench with 13 points. Eric Maynor was also solid in relief, turning in 3/6 shooting and 5 assists for 9 points on the night.
Potential starter James Harden, however, was not as productive, going 0/6 shooting, 0/3 in threes, and made all 6 of his points in free throws. With Ibaka out due to a sprained right wrist, this was Harden's chance to shine and make a statement as to why he should be a starter, and flopped spectacularly.
All in all, while I'll take an easy victory over an opponent as looked forward to as the Hornets, the lack of Paul and Okafor, the miniscule minutes given to Peja Stojakovic (9), and the fact only one Hornets starter was in double digits in the points department (David West had 24,) this game seemed underwhelming.
Notably, turning in a decent showing for the Hornets was Thunder-for-a-day Quincy Pondexter, who was traded to the Hornets as part of the deal that brought us Cole Aldrich during the draft. Pondexter was 4/7 shooting in 21 minutes for 10 points. Between him and West, the only other Hornet in double digits was Jason Smith (10 points.)
And that wraps up the preseason. Now it counts. I feel the fact that Ivey and Peterson were held out is very telling, watch them get cut here soon as we prepare to open the season Oct. 27 against Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
It promises to be a good game against a storied Bulls franchise struggling to rebuild (which I think they've been doing since MJ retired for good.) However, I'm dissapointed that two Bulls with Oklahoma ties, former Thunder forward Kyle Weaver and former Oklahoma State standout John Lucas, were both waived Oct. 21.
Zorgon should be back in time to handle the game reporting for that one, so hopefully everything will be back up and back to normal. See you then, and don't forget...THUNDER UP!
...man, I still feel silly typing that.