Game one of the lockout-shortened NBA season is finally here. As I reflect on the past six months of waiting for this moment to happen, here are five things I'm eager to see play out Sunday night.
1. We have gotten a glimpse of the Thunder's dedication to an accelerated pace and emphasis on passing the ball. While at times in the pre-season it became a bit forced and resulted in over-passing and unnecessary turnovers, I think the focus on it now will pay dividends down the road. On the flip side of the coin, I want to see the team cut down on turnovers and wasted possessions.
2. Kendrick Perkins worked like a madman to get in the best shape of his life this off-season, and lo and behold, he's got the best center in the game knocking on the door at the Chesapeake Arena ready to challenge him. From the first moment when Dwight Howard catches the ball in the post, everybody is going to be held in rapt attention to see how Perk holds up against both Howard's strength and quickness. I'm sure Perk has been looking forward to that moment for quite a while now, and all eyes will be on #5 the first time Howard drops his shoulder, smashes it into Perkins' chest, and we finally get to see if a healthy Perkins can hold his ground.
3. I am eager to see how Kevin Durant's retooled post-up game is going to play out. We've seen glimpses of it so far, be it a sudden drop-step move or an emulated one-legged fade-away. More important, we are going to be watching closely to see if Durant has gained additional muscle he needs to be able to hold his position and not get pushed 25 feet away from the rim.
In a similar vein, we got to see Russell Westbrook work out of the post a little bit last season as well. Westbrook is a mismatch terror for anyone, but especially so in the post where he can apply his superior strength and agility to create open looks.
In other words, I want to watch two non-post players learn to dominate in the post.
4. James Harden's role of the team has gotten a lot of focus in the off-season. While it appears that he's going to start the season coming off the bench, what is more important to the Thunder's chances is how Harden finishes the games. Harden really came into his own moment during the playoffs, particularly in close games. I believe he is going to be the secret ingredient that helps cure the Thunder's late-game swoons. Against the Magic, it would be interesting to see a close-but-not-too-close game where the Thunder can work on their end of game scenarios without too much pressure.
5. I'll finish with pure a pure spectacle that has a 99% chance of not happening. I would love to see Serge Ibaka win the opening tip on Sunday night and then quickly kick the ball out to the wing where Kevin Durant is ambling up the court. Durant catches the ball, takes two lazy dribbles, and then pulls up from Rucker Park range and buries a 35 foot jumper. He turns around, flexes to the crowd, and everybody knows that the Thunder are back.
(In fact, I have this moving image playing through my head right now and the shot actually goes in. So in a way I hope it doesn't play out in real life because the likelihood of Durant actually hitting that shot is about 10%. I'd best just be left to the imaginary Youtube clip running on repeat in my mind. Even so, Thunder up.)