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NBA PRESEASON: GRIZZLIES 99, THUNDER 91MEMPHIS - About 90 minutes before tip-off, a smile grew wider and wider on Russell Westbrook's face the more he thought about the difference between Wednesday night and the first time he sat inside the visitor's locker room at FedEx Forum.

His memories of Nov. 29, 2008, are vivid. It was a Saturday night. Newly named interim coach Scott Brooks had just told him he would be starting his first career game, against the Memphis Grizzlies.

And that's when the knots started forming in the pit of his stomach.

"Oh it's a whole lot different," Westbrook said of his nerves just before the Thunder opened its preseason schedule. "I'm so chill now. I'm so calm and cool."

Westbrook then went out and proved it, backing up his claim with a near perfect floor game in the Thunder's 99-91 loss. His final stat line - five points, 10 assists, four rebounds - wasn't jaw-dropping. But considering he turned the ball over only twice, took just four shot attempts and could have had 15 assists had his teammates knocked down a few more shots, Wednesday's opener was about as good as it gets.

Westbrook deliberately looked for his teammates throughout the game rather than calling his own number. And his improved decision-making was on display, as he rarely got himself into jams and frequently saw plays developing ahead of time. One of Westbrook's shot attempts was out of necessity as the shot clock neared zero, and one of his turnovers was the result of an illegal screen as he attempted to free up a teammate.

"He's gotten way better from what I saw last year," said teammate Shaun Livingston, who added it took him until his third season to evolve into an exceptional playmaker.

"He's understanding the flow of the game. I just want him to be able to pick his spots, because that's what the great point guards in this league do...Because of his athletic ability, he could be one of the best at doing this in the league."

Westbrook hounded speedy Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley into a 1-for-7 shooting night. Conley finished with eight points, five assists and three turnovers.

"I think I did a good job," Westbrook said. "I was just trying to get everybody going, get everybody some touches and play off them. And we did a good job of that. It's good to just get me back in the flow, get some jitters out and get prepared for the regular season."

Westbrook's work came undone the moment he checked out for good with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Thunder held a 70-63 lead and a four-point advantage going into the final period. But the combination of seven turnovers in the final period and Grizzlies rookie Sam Young's 15-point explosion en route to his game-high 22 proved too much.

Before that point, the Thunder didn't show much rust in their debut. The ball moved on offense and players talked, helped and rotated with purpose defensively.

The one glaring problem was rebounding. Memphis out-rebounded Oklahoma City 40-30, grabbing 11 on the offensive end. Four Grizzlies players had seven rebounds. No Thunder player had more than D.J. White's five off the bench.

"We are a team that has to have all five guys rebound," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "And we definitely will put some focus on that...But we did some good things."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 10, 2009


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