In Wichita, Thunder Beats Dallas to Close Out Preseason

WICHITA - Setting the tone early and often on the glass is a major focus for the Thunder this season. Tonight in the team’s final preseason game in Wichita, the Thunder put its stamp on the game by boxing out and grabbing boards.

Last season the Thunder went 31-5 when outrebounding the opposition, including 12-1 when grabbing 10-or-more boards than their opponents. Tonight, in the Thunder’s 88-76 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club snagged 51 rebounds, 11 more than the Mavericks. The attitude was evident from the start, when the Thunder out-rebounded Dallas 30-14 in the first half behind five-or-more rebounds each from Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

“It’s one of the things we’ve been focusing on,” Brooks said. “We have to be able to rebound the basketball. We’re a good defensive team, we can make teams miss, we just have to finish up that defense with a rebound and that’s one of the things that we emphasized all training camp. I thought we’ve improved in that area, but come regular season, we have to continue to do that and do it consistently.”

Those rebounding numbers are impressive, as is the attitude, but it is truly important to the Thunder to limit opposition offensive boards, and the team held Dallas to nine tonight. Offensively, coach Brooks said that his team turned the ball over a few too many times, but yet again his team racked up 20+ assists, hitting 26 on the night behind six from Westbrook and five each from Durant and James Harden. This marks the fourth time this preseason that the Thunder has had 25-or-more assists, a positive trend the team wants to continue.

“We’re just moving the ball,” Harden said. “We have so many guys that can create and score. It makes the game a lot easier… Overall, I think we’re moving the ball, guys are getting open shots. We missed a couple easy shots, but those are going to fall once we get into a groove.”

At the core of the team’s philosophy, however, is its defensive mindset. Each day in practice, every morning at shootaround and during games, Brooks, his staff and team leaders refocus the team to be defensively oriented. It starts with the team’s anchor on that side of the ball, Perkins, whose attitude and physicality helps others understand the intensity with which this game must be played.

“Defensively we just have to think about going into practice as having a defensive mindset,” Perkins said. “Rebounding, contesting shots, talking on D. Our offense will take care of itself, we just have to make sure we do a better job.”

In all, the Thunder had an effective night by moving the ball effectively, rebounding it well and playing staunch defense – holding Dallas to 37.3 percent shooting, including 3-for-16 from three point land. The team also had a boost from a friendly Wichita crowd, which showed up in full force, representing the largest crowd at INTRUST Bank Arena history. Needless to say, there are fans throughout the Midwest, country and the world who love the Thunder, and a big group of them showed up with wonderful energy tonight.

“This is a beautiful place,” Brooks said. “It’s a great place to play, the crowd was very enthusiastic. They were here early, which is always fun to see. It’s a great atmosphere, our players always appreciate that. You can go around in exhibition games and you don’t see the atmospheres that we would see here. We’re very fortunate that we have a good following. We appreciate it and would love to come back.”

After tonight’s game, however, it is time for the Thunder to close the books on its exhibition schedule, and lock in supremely on the next task at hand. The regular season begins in one week with a road game against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday November 1st and the team’s home opener on November 2nd against the Portland Trail Blazers in Chesapeake Energy Arena. For an already cohesive unit whose continuity is a major strength, Harden said that there is one major goal for the next week.

“To become one and get a flow for the game and how we’re going to play,” Harden said. “This game really helped us out because this is the second game all of our core played, so it was a good feeling out there. We have a week to prepare.”