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by Max Rappaport, Sixers.com
Posted: September 5, 2013

With the first half of our game-by-game look at the PHILA BIG Game Plan in the books, we move on to #5 on our list – the Sixers’ January 25 meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder appeared poised to make another run at the NBA Finals last season, but a season-ending knee injury suffered by superstar Russell Westbrook in the opening round of the playoffs hobbled the returning Western Conference Champions. They would go on to win their opening series against the Houston Rockets, but were swiftly taken care of in the following round by the Grizzlies, falling to Memphis in five games.

Now, the 6-3 point guard is back to full strength and the Thunder are poised for another run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

Thunder Key Offseason Moves

For the third straight year, Oklahoma City enters their season with the formidable projected starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins. Over the past two seasons, though, the team’s bench has undergone a transformation. 

Once highlighted by rising stars Serge Ibaka and James Harden, the Thunder bench is now led by Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Ryan Gomes, Nick Collison, and Steven Adams. The purge began two years ago, when Thunder General Manager Sam Presti traded soon-to-be-free-agent Jeff Green, a 6-8 stretch forward, in a deadline deal that brought back center Kendrick Perkins. Green’s departure opened the door for Ibaka, who was thrust into the starting lineup. The 6-10 shotblocker has since developed into one of the league’s most prized big men, but a rotating committee of frontcourt players have been employed to replace his dynamic production off the bench. 

The biggest blow to the Thunder reserves occurred on the eve of the 2012-13 season, when the team dealt 2012 Sixth Man of the Year James Harden for a package that included future picks, the rights to guard Jeremy Lamb, and expiring perimeter scorer Kevin Martin. Martin filled Harden’s shoes the best he could, but was not able fill the playmaking void left on by Harden on Oklahoma City bench. This summer, Martin signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, putting pressure on the sophomore guard, Lamb, to give the team a much-needed offensive spark. 

A team that previously relied heavily upon the prowess of their reserves, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks will need to find unique ways to maximize the productivity of his starting unit while making sure they are still fresh come playoff time. 

Notables

Despite coming in at an average age of just 25.0, the 18 current members of the Thunder roster boast a combined 665 career playoff appearances.

• In a 116-109 overtime loss to the Thunder on November 24, 2012, Sixer forward Thaddeus Young posted 29 points and 15 rebounds; swingman Evan Turner added 26 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

In that same game, Kevin Durant scored 37 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists, notched four steals, and blocked three shots; Russell Westbrook had 30 points and nine assists.

• The Thunder led the league in free throws made last season, with 1,819, and also led the league in free-throw percentage (82.8%).

• Before this game, the Sixers and Thunder square off in an exhibition match on Tuesday, October 8, at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, England.