, Muskogee, OK


December 17, 2011

Thunder, Mavs meet in in NBA exhibition opener tonight

 The first of two exhibition games  between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks will take place at 6:30 tonight inside the American Airlines Center. It won’t be televised.

The second game will be 7 p.m. Tuesday in Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where a limited number of tickets remain on sale.

Neither will have quite the unique electricity or the importance of Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage or the regular season opener Christmas Night against Orlando.

Friday, the Thunder’s action split girls and boys high school games between Putnam City West and Putnam City North at a packed Putnam City West High School. It was the first full-court action since last year’s Western Conference finals against the Mavericks.

“Our players loved it,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “When we walked into gym it reminded all of our players, including our coaches, of our high school experiences.”

The loudest ovation was for Kevin Durant and the second-loudest were for Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

“They were loud the whole night,” Harden said of the sellout crowd. “When they called everybody’s name, they were very loud.”

 Turnovers clouded Friday’s scrimmage, which is to be expected given the limited practice time due to the 149-day NBA lockout.

“It takes time. No excuses,” Brooks said. “We don’t have the time, but everybody’s in the same situation. There are many things I love about our guys, but one of them is there’s no excuses. They go out and play, and if we don’t do well they come back in the next day and try to do better. If we do well, we stay humble and keep fighting.

“I think the scrimmage was great in a lot of areas. We really challenged each other. It wasn’t like a ‘Let’s play basketball and have some fun’ type of game. They got some things accomplished. That’s what the game is about. It’s about getting better. The atmosphere, that was fun for all of us.”

Small forward Lazar Hayward, acquired Tuesday in a trade with Minnesota, made his debut Friday night. He finished with five points, but struggled shooting from the field. He spent much of the night defending Durant.

The Mavericks will be a different squad than the one that knocked off the Thunder en route to a six-game finals win against the Miami Heat. Dallas lost starting center Tyson Chandler and reserve wings J.J. Barea and Caron Butler to free agency. But they gained Lamar Odom and a second-round draft pick from the Los Angeles Lakers for a first-round pick and an $8.9 million trade exception, capping Los Angeles’ stunning 72-hour breakup with last season’s Sixth Man of the Year.

The Lakers and Mavericks reached a swift deal after Odom learned that Los Angeles was attempting to trade him in a megadeal for New Orleans superstar Chris Paul. Paul wound up with the crosstown Clippers, joining former Oklahoma Sooner Blake Griffin and thereby giving rise to the possibility that the Clippers, not the aging Lakers, may own the LA scene this season.

Kobe Bryant enters his 14th season with the Lakers with his wife, Vanessa, filing for divorce last week.

But clearly, the Mavs and the Thunder could find themselves back in the Western Conference finals this spring.

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