Thunder Geared Up for Season Opener

Every year in the NBA is a new journey. The Thunder’s journey starts tonight.

Its opening night of the 2012-13 season for the Thunder, and as the team prepares to battle the Spurs in San Antonio tonight, there was an opportunity for Head Coach Scott Brooks to take a step back and realize how fortunate he and his players are to start another year in the NBA. The Spurs began their season on Wednesday night with a hard-fought road win against the New Orleans Hornets, and tonight the Thunder hopes to get its regular season jump-started with a victory of its own.

“It’s always exciting anytime you start an NBA season,” Brooks said. “One, that you’re on an NBA team, it’s a privilege to be in this league as a player and as a coach. We have a good group of guys to coach. I’m excited about it, and what a challenge we have- one of the best teams on the road.”

Team leaders like Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are familiar with what a season of Thunder basketball looks like, but newcomers Kevin Martin, Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton have all been brought into the fold. Starting this summer when Durant took Jones under his wing and continuing all the way to this weekend when players like Kendrick Perkins reached out to the newly acquired Martin, the Thunder has made the new guys feel like a part of the family.

“I feel fresh, it’s very exciting to be in a winning atmosphere like this,” Martin said. “I feel like I’m with the team, I just have tunnel vision myself right now. We have our eye on the prize and it starts tonight. We feel like we have a very talented squad and now it’s just about getting out there and finding the chemistry and waiting for that one game where it all clicks together.”

It is important that every Thunder player meshes with the core and understands the team’s expectations, their role and how they fit into the puzzle Brooks will assemble as the season goes along. That assimilation process begins fully tonight as the Thunder faces a familiar opponent. After meeting up multiple times during the regular season each year and six times in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Thunder and Spurs are well-versed in one another’s playbooks.

“We all know San Antonio, you know they’re going to play hard,” Brooks said. “You know they’re going to pass the ball and are going to just play solid basketball for 48 minutes. We’re excited about the challenge.”

The Thunder will start Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Perkins as it did for the majority of last season and during the Playoffs, while continuing to tinker with the second unit rotation that is headed by Collison and Eric Maynor, who will assume backup point guard duties to start the season, with the chance of playing alongside Reggie Jackson in a two-guard look.

New wrinkles to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball are important for both teams because of how much they know about one anothers' schemes but really, it comes down to execution.

“There’s no question that both teams are familiar with each other,” Brooks said. “There aren’t going to be a lot of tricks thrown back and forth. We change a few things as the year goes on and as the game goes on. What they do, you know they’re doing it, but they do it with such great execution and precision and effort.”

On defense, the Thunder looks to be physical and disrupt the timing of the Spurs sets in order to prevent Head Coach Greg Popovich’s club from getting to optimal spots on the floor. The key to being an efficient and effective offensive team is to be able to execute your sets even if the opposing team knows exactly what is coming. That is one goal for the Thunder tonight, which Martin, who over the past eight years has seen plenty of the Spurs, explained at shootaround ahead of tonight’s season-opening matchup.

“You just have to be aggressive and take what they give you,” Martin said. “We’re all very high IQ players and they are the same. So you just have to take what they give you and just be ready for coach Popovich to have a master plan, and hopefully our master plan is a little bit better.”