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July 26: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Philadelphia 76ers - Scrimmage

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The Thunder look to build on a good win against the Celtics

Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Oklahoma City did a very good job against the Celtics a few days ago. The Thunder’s intensity caught the Celtics’ off guard and the Thunder were able to race away to a victory. As a rule, wins in scrimmages should not be read into all that much. Boston did not play their starting lineup at all during the second half.

However, I enjoyed watching the game that the Thunder played. Oklahoma City played with energy and speed. There were a lot of encouraging signs that the Thunder are ready to play basketball in the bubble no matter the circumstances.

It was also brilliant to see Andre Roberson make his long awaited return. Roberson’s return brought a tear to my eye. I genuinely thought it was over for Andre but he has beat the odds. The best thing about his return is that Andre looked pretty solid on the court for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City will play the Sixers in an early game in Orlando. The tie will start at 12:00 (EST). The game will be broadcast on okcthunder.com and League Pass.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

Dre’s Return:

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

During the first half of the scrimmage, it seemed like Andre Roberson would not get back into the game. He was rooted to his seat and Billy Donovan made no attempt to bring him back into the game. It was a different story in the second half.

Andre popped up off the bench and warmed up on the sidelines. He stretched his leg muscles out, took off his shirt and checked back into the game. It has been a long time coming. Dre is back. I was incredibly happy and I could not stop smiling.

His impact was noticeable from the first minute of the game. Billy Donovan deployed Andre at the 4, on the backline of the defense. This new role allowed Andre to fully extend his mental capabilities.

Roberson’s new role allowed him to see all of the floor and direct his teammates to spots on defense. His leadership was valuable for the Thunder; the defense tightened up and there were less openings for the Celtics to exploit.

When you watch Andre closely on defense, you quickly realise why he is an elite defender. Roberson does not play his own man on defense, he plays two moves ahead. Andre is always calculating where the offense could go and how he can nullify the attack.

At the same time, Roberson does not lose sight of his man. His head is constantly moving he looks around the court. Roberson understands where his assignment is and positions himself well.

Against Boston, Dre played on the right baseline. It would be easy to drift inside too much and leave the weak-side corner shooter with space. Andre was disciplined and placed himself in spots where he could be disruptive on defense.

Dre’s lateral quickness was diminished but that is to be expected. Andre has gone through 30 months of hell on his lower body. It was unlikely that he would come out as the same athlete. I liked that Dre did not give up on plays and kept on fighting.

Andre will never be the same athlete he was before the injury. However, his mind for the game is still sharp as a needle. Roberson can be an excellent defender if the Thunder put him in positions to succeed.

Adams’ Beast Mode:

Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Steve had himself a game against the Celtics. He dominated Daniel Theis as he amassed a nightly total of 17 points and 7 rebounds. Steven looked fast and explosive as he secured four offensive rebounds and kept possessions alive for the Thunder.

Before the season restarted in earnest, Adams joked about working on the farm and boxing out cows. It is obvious that the time he spent in New Zealand was beneficial to his game. Steven does not seem to have lost weight but his conditioning looked strong.

Steven looked light on his feet and nimble at times against the Celtics. The improvements in conditioning will help Adams a lot in terms of managing fatigue on his body. Over the course of the last three seasons, we have seen Adams’ play deteriorate due to wear and tear.

I will also say that the bubble environment is a benefit for Steven Adams. In a normal NBA schedule, a team will spend a lot of time travelling around. There is not always time to fully prepare a player’s body for a gruelling stretch of the games. Travel time cuts into rehab time.

There is no travel in the bubble. The Thunder medical staff can afford to spend extra time on Adams’ body as they do not need to worry about catching planes or getting to arenas. The Thunder physios have two days between most games to get players in prime physical condition.

Defense:

Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Oklahoma City played well on defense against the Celtics. The Thunder played with intensity and aggression on defense which seemed to catch Boston off guard. The Celtics’ really struggled to established an offensive rhythm as OKC swarmed on defense.

I liked the energy and hustle from the Thunder. I thought that the aggression did not allow Boston to get comfortable. However, it did seem that the Thunder were trying a little too hard on defense occasionally.

There were a few possessions where the Thunder made hard rotations or aggressively attacked the ball-handler with little result. Great teams pick apart defenses that are too aggressive and these teams run up the score.

It is really good to see every player committing to play hard-nosed defense. However, Billy Donovan needs to rein his guys in and settle them down into a rhythm. Great defense is achieved by balancing aggression with control. The Thunder have to dictate the flow of the offense.

Sixers’ Shots:

Simmons’ Shot:

Ben Simmons has been notorious for not shooting 3-point shots during his time as an NBA player. The Sixers have ran possessions where it has seemed like Simmons was avoiding taking deep shots. His reluctance has caused tension in the Sixers’ locker room.

Joel Embiid works best in the low post. His combination of speed, size and technical ability is very difficult for a big to stop. However, Embiid has spent a lot of time on the perimeter in recent years to accommodate Simmons’ lack of shooting.

It has been frustrating for Embiid. Joel has not been able to use the best tool in his arsenal as Simmons’ lack of shooting has meant that the floor is crowded. Simmons has worked with a sports psychologist to try and address the mental block in his mind.

Simmons has looked more comfortable; he attempted two shots from downtown in Philly’s first scrimmage. Simmons released these shots with no hesitation and he was able to drain one 3-pointer.

Starting Lineup Adjustment:

The Sixers’ starting lineup has been clunky all season long. Horford, Simmons and Embiid just did not play well together. There was very little chemistry on offense and the offense lacked fluency.

It does seem like Elton Brand’s jumbo lineup experiment has not quite worked. Players have played out of position and have not look entirely comfortable. Al Horford did not look like the center he was in Boston. Tobias Harris looked constricted in a role where his shots were limited.

Brett Brown has addressed this issue. Shake Milton has been promoted to the starting lineup with Horford dropping to the bench. It is a smart tactical change from Brown. Milton is a capable shooter and will provide much needed spacing to the Sixers’ starting lineup.

Side-Note:

Abdel Nader suffered a horrible fall against the Celtics the other night. Nader has been placed in concussion protocol by the Thunder. I think we all wish Nader well and hope that there are no other injuries.