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News » Kings-Thunder Preview 2009-10-27

Kings-Thunder Preview 2009-10-27

Kings-Thunder Preview 2009-10-27The Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings combined for just 40 wins last season, but there's reason for optimism for both teams as they continue their rebuilding projects.

Behind emerging star Kevin Durant, the Thunder especially have high hopes for the season that will begin with the Kings' visit to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.

In its first season after moving from Seattle, Oklahoma City got off to a horrific 3-29 start in 2008-09, but the team won 20 of its final 50 games and saw progress from a young core that includes Durant, forward Jeff Green and guard Russell Westbrook.

That trio combined to average 57.1 points, 18.1 rebounds and 10.1 assists, and Durant's 25.3 points-per-game average ranked sixth in the league. The former Texas star and 2007-08 rookie of the year could shoulder an even bigger load this season.

"You're going to have highs and lows, especially with us growing as a team, us being young. But we've got to make up for that with working hard and playing hard in games," Durant said. "I think that'll limit that. It starts with me being a leader."

The Thunder, who finished 23-59 last season, will also hope for contributions from guards Shaun Livingston, who joined the team late last season after recovering from a major knee injury, and James Harden, the third overall draft pick in June out of Arizona State.

"The talent is there. There's no question about it," Livingston said. "These guys are young, they know how to play, the guys have got a big heart on this team. It's just we have to pull it together. This team isn't about one player. It's about guys coming together and forming chemistry."

The team will also likely have to improve its defense under coach Scott Brooks, who will begin his first full season.

Thunder opponents shot 47.5 percent from the field last season, the 27th-worst mark in the league. Among Western Conference teams, only Sacramento was worse, ranking last overall at 48.3 percent.

The Kings also had the worst record in the league - and in franchise history - at 17-65, and they may face a longer road back to respectability.

It won't help that the team will begin the season with lingering doubts about the health of leading scorer Kevin Martin, who missed the last two preseason games with a sprained left ankle after a similar injury kept him out of 30 games last season. It's unclear if he'll play Wednesday.

The Kings know they will be without versatile swingman Francisco Garcia for the opener. Garcia, who averaged a career-high 12.7 points last season, will be sidelined at least four months after undergoing surgery on his injured forearm and wrist earlier this month.

There are plenty of new faces in Sacramento, however, including first-year head coach Paul Westphal and No. 4 overall draft pick Tyreke Evans. The rookie out of Memphis will try to provide a boost after impressing his new coach in the preseason.

"He doesn't even seem like a rookie," Westphal said. "He just has a feel for the game that inspires confidence. He's going to be a really fine player."

The Kings also picked up Omri Casspi in the first round, and the forward will become the first Israeli to play in the NBA. He'll join a young frontcourt that includes 23-year-old Jason Thompson and 21-year-old Spencer Hawes.

"It's tough when you don't have the veterans like Orlando or the Lakers," Thompson said. "I look at it as two or three years ago those teams were in our same situation. You have to go through ups and downs. You have to start somewhere. We're at that level and we have a lot of potential."

The Thunder went 2-1 against Sacramento last season, earning a 99-98 road win March 10 even without Durant in the lineup. Durant scored 39 points and went 16 for 25 from the field in Oklahoma City's other victory, a 116-113 home win Feb. 8.

The teams have met even more recently, however, with the Kings taking a 104-89 win at Oklahoma City without Martin in one of the final preseason games Thursday.

"I really wish we didn't have to play this game before we play them (Wednesday)," said Westphal, whose last NBA head coaching job was with the Thunder franchise in Seattle from 1998-2000. "Both teams I'm sure held a few wrinkles back."

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 27, 2009


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