When the Oklahoma City Thunder released its first injury report on Tuesday, two pieces of the starting lineup were already in doubt for this evening’s game against the Orlando Magic. Forward Al Horford was listed as out while point guard George Hill was listed as questionable with a neck injury.
The potential of losing 30-something-year-old starters like Horford and Hill can have large ripple effects for a young team like the Thunder.
OKC kept the game close throughout, but it couldn’t get out of its own way. The Magic beat the Thunder 118-107 at The ‘Peake.
First Takeaway: Working With What He’s Got
You’ve probably heard the word “learn” a lot with regards to the Thunder this season. You’ll probably hear it again and again from now until the end of the season.
Yes, the roster went through a massive transformation. Returning players are taking on larger roles. New players are simply trying to find their footing in this wacky NBA world.
The same is true for Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault, who is an NBA head coach for the very first time.
It turns out he would be without Hill, who was later downgraded to out. Daigneault installed Isaiah Roby and Justin Jackson into the starting lineup despite Roby and Jackson not playing a single minute before Tuesday night.
Both looked good for their first action of the season. Jackson went a modest 3-for-6 from the field, grabbed two rebounds and dished out three assists in 29 minutes. Conversely, he accounted for four of the Thunder’s season-high 20 turnovers.
Roby was much better than expected in his first NBA start. Who can argue with 19 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal? Not me. I’m not the contrarian type.
Eleven players saw the floor on Tuesday. As Hill and Horford could sit out other halves of back-to-backs this season, we could see Daigneault send out interesting five-man combos with the potential for some interesting results.
Second Takeaway: Hot Shots
How much did not having Al Horford down low affect Oklahoma City’s defense? That’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but it didn’t help not having him in there.
The Magic, who entered Tuesday third in the NBA in scoring, didn’t squander many opportunities to score against the short-handed Thunder. Orlando scored 22 of its 34 first quarter points in the paint.
The feasting continued for the Magic, who finished with 72 points in the paint and shot 51 percent from the field as a team. Dwayne Bacon scored 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting from the floor. All of his makes were 10 feet away from the basket or closer.
Third Takeaway: Lugu3ntz Dort
Late last season, opponents were content to leave Thunder guard Lu Dort open on the perimeter, so he could chuck a 3-pointer that would usually clang off the rim.
Through three games, we are seeing a patient and selective Dort on the offensive end. It’s clear he’s worked tirelessly on beating defenders off the dribble and muscling his way to the basket.
Dort has also worked wonders on his 3-point shooting. He’s made nine of 19 3-pointers for a smooth 47.3 percent.
It’s safe to say Dort is not yet a butterfly. Whenever he finally emerges from his cocoon, at the height of his powers, Dort has the potential to be one of the most dangerous players in the league.