The Norman Transcript

National Sports

October 22, 2012

Thunder get their starting five back

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder put their full starting five together for the first time this preseason, and it didn’t take long to get back to the level that carried them all the way to the NBA Finals a few months ago.

Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka scored 16 points apiece as the starters jumped out to a quick lead, then watched from the bench as the reserves closed out a 108-101 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

James Harden returned from a strained left groin and also scored 16 in his usual sixth-man role. Kendrick Perkins played for the first time after wrist surgery and Thabo Sefolosha joined him in the starting lineup after a left quad contusion.

“The core group of guys are back, and I think that’s really important for us,” said Sefolosha, who played 20 minutes. “We’ve been practicing really hard and, of course, some guys are a little rusty. It was kind of a long summer.

“I think it shouldn’t take too long for us to get in the swing of it.”

Oklahoma City built a 19-point lead in the first half, only for the Nuggets to race back and take a one-point edge three times early in the fourth quarter. The Thunder stuck with their reserves and they were able to close it out against a mixture of Denver starters and backups.

“It feels good. We needed everybody to get back,” Ibaka said. “We needed it, especially with 11 days or 10 days until the start of the season.”

Oklahoma City has two more preseason games left, but coach Scott Brooks said he plans to rest Durant and possibly fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook on Tuesday night in Chicago. The Thunder also play the next night against Dallas in Wichita, Kan.

“It was the first time all of us were out there together since last year, and it felt great,” said Harden, who had missed the previous three exhibitions. “Now, we’ve just got to move forward and get better.”

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