The Oklahoma City Thunder will begin the 2012-13 season with a road game vs. the San Antonio Spurs tonight. The game will tip-off at 9:30 p.m. EST and will be nationally televised on TNT.
This will be the first game for the Thunder after trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets last Saturday night. Harden was one of OKC’s best players against the Spurs last season when the teams met in the Western Conference Finals. He averaged 18.5 points per game and shot 49.3 percent from the field and 60.9 percent from downtown in that series.
The Thunder will try to move on from losing Harden with help from the new additions Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. Lamb my not play much if at all to start the season but Martin will essentially be taking over Harden’s role in terms of playing time.
Martin is very excited to be a part of this Thunder team having been stuck on losing teams for most of his career. He can bring to the floor a lot of what Harden did but he isn’t as dynamic at this point in his career.
As far as the playmaking that Harden did last year, Eric Maynor is returning to the floor tonight after just playing nine games last year before a season-ending knee injury. He isn’t Harden either but he was one of the best backup point guards in the league before he got hurt and will give OKC something they didn’t exactly have last season.
More pressure will now be on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with Harden gone. While there is no doubt Durant will rise to the occasion, as far as tonight goes playing San Antonio, Westbrook will be another story.
Westbrook struggled against the Spurs last season quite a bit. He averaged just 18.2 points per game in the West Finals (down from 23.6 PPG in the regular season) and shot 37.8 percent from the field. Westbrook also had trouble containing Tony Parker who dominated the point guard matchup in that series.
Westbrook looked very good in the preseason, more comfortable and distributing better so maybe that carries over into tonight. San Antonio is still simply not the ideal matchup for Westbrook who always seems to struggle with them.
Durant on the other hand should be fine and will need to be more than that for the Thunder tonight. He averaged 29.5 points per game and shot 53.2 percent from the field in the West Finals vs. San Antonio. The Spurs don’t really have anyone who can guard Durant straight up on their roster and once Durant figured that out last year in the playoffs, OKC was well on their way to the NBA Finals.
Another player to keep an eye on especially with the departure of Harden will be Serge Ibaka. Ibaka got his contract extension this summer and should try and assume a larger role in the Thunder offense. He averaged just 9.1 points in 27.2 minutes per game last season but in the preseason looked much more aggressive and confident with his shot. Ibaka had one of the best performances of the playoffs in Game 4 of the West Finals vs. San Antonio last year. He went a perfect 11-for-11 from the field and scored 26 points to lift the Thunder to a crucial victory.
Tonight will also be the NBA debut of rookie Perry Jones III who was very impressive in the preseason. He is likely to get more minutes this year with Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook being shipped to Houston. Against the Spurs, he may be used quite a bit too as the Thunder should play some smaller lineups to match up.
San Antonio is playing a back-to-back tonight having beaten the New Orleans Hornets 99-95 on the road last night. They trailed for a large part of that game before coming back late. The Spurs changed their roster less than any other team in the league this offseason, only adding one player in Nando De Colo, who didn’t even play last night.
Gregg Popovich may choose not to play his big guns major minutes tonight because of the back-to-back and Manu Ginobili is unlikely to play at all, having missed last night’s game as well. The Spurs are as professional an organization as it gets and going to play them in their home opener is no easy task.
The Thunder will face a big challenge tonight in their first regular season game of 2012-13. How will they look without Harden? What can they get from Martin, Jones and Maynor? Are the Spurs now better equipped to take down OKC in a series without Harden in the equation?
We will start to answer these questions tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST on TNT.