Thunder hosts Kings trying to avoid first 0-3 start in 11 years
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- In the Oklahoma City Thunder's Friday shootaround before its game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook looked nearly ready to go.
Westbrook's shot looked a bit rusty but the athleticism that has made him one of the most electric players in the NBA looked intact.
The 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player ultimately sat against the Clippers, but figures to return Sunday for the Thunder's home opener against Sacramento.
"I think for him, he needs to be right because you don't want to have something lingering," Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told reporters in Los Angeles.
The Thunder are in need of their top star after their first 0-2 start since 2014. The last time the franchise started 0-3 was in 2007-08, its last season in Seattle.
Through two games, the Thunder is shooting an NBA-worst 36 percent from the field without Westbrook.
"We were way too easy to guard. The ball never moved," Donovan said after Friday's loss. "We've got to be able to move and attack and have multiple paint touches and do those things."
Without Westbrook at his side, Paul George is shooting just 16 of 50 (32 percent) from the floor and 7 of 23 (30 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
"We've got one of the best players coming back to our team at some point," Paul George said. "But, I take a lot of pressure on that. I've still got to get this group ready to go. I've got to get this group ready to win games regardless if Russ is out there or if Russ is not."
While Oklahoma City's biggest issues have come on the offensive side, Sacramento has struggled defensively in their own 0-2 start.
The Kings have allowed an average of 136 points per game in losses to Utah and New Orleans.
They've shot well, though, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said his team's issues were related to the Kings' desire to push the tempo more and create more opportunities for its offense.
"We have things to work on certainly, but I like what I see," Joerger said. "I saw some really good things offensively (Friday). I see a lot of things defensively that can be learned through experience. It just takes time as younger guys learn how to play against older guys.
"I am not fired up about giving up 149, but I do like what I see from a lot of our guys."
It's early, but the Kings pace so far is fifth-quickest in the NBA.
But Sacramento must defend the perimeter better after the Jazz and Pelicans combined for 29 3-pointers in the Kings' first two losses.
"Teams are shooting threes extremely well against us and that's the shot of the NBA," Sacramento guard De'Aaron Fox said.
The Kings added some depth at small forward Saturday, signing Troy Williams to a two-way contract.
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound Williams has played 51 games with three teams over the past two seasons.
"We didn't start with the intensity that we wanted to start with defensively and the guys know, and they feel it and understand that," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. "We just have to apply it to the court. But we did get better (Friday night); we've just got to put it together for 48 minutes."
The poor second quarters have overshadowed the first two games of rookie Trae Young's career. Young scored 14 Wednesday and 20 in Memphis but is shooting 1 of 10 in the second quarter so far.
The Hawks enter the game having allowed at least 120 points in their first games of a season for the first time in franchise history. Atlanta has allowed at least 125 points in consecutive games for the first time since doing it in three straight games March 3-8, 1973 but back then the Hawks won all of those games.
"When we get down so much, and we have to battle back, we're putting ourselves in bad spots early on," Young said. "It's hard for us to battle back and take the lead and things like that."
Updated October 20, 2018