Thunder Preview Basketball

In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives past Sacramento Kings forward Harry Giles III during a game in Oklahoma City. The Thunder were one of the hottest teams in the NBA before the coronavirus pandemic hit. After a 131-120 win in a scrimmage against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, the Thunder will begin their eight-game seeding schedule in the Orlando “bubble” on Saturday afternoon against the Utah Jazz.

The end of July was supposed to be the beginning of sports’ return from the dead.

This past weekend was highlighted by baseball games, like, actual baseball games that count. On Tuesday, veterans were scheduled to report to NFL training camps, just as the league’s television network was stoking fan excitement, airing its annual player-chosen list of the 100 best players in the sport. And this weekend was going to be the NBA’s restart within the Orlando “Bubble”.

Needless to say, there was excitement, a buzz.

But almost as quickly as the momentum train got rolling, the breaks could be heard screeching all the way from Miami. The COVID-19 outbreak within the Miami Marlins organization means the team will not play baseball games until further notice. And with Ohio State announcing fans will likely only fill Ohio Stadium to 20-percent capacity — if at all — it appears college football’s complications are only beginning.

But if there’s one league in American sports that appears to have done it right, it’s the NBA. The bubble method has produced limited positive tests, very few problems and the product appears pretty sharp. And if there’s a team to buy stock in right now, the Thunder just might be that team. And in their final tune-up for the real thing, OKC looked fresh, quick and perhaps most of all, deep.

Sure, it was a scrimmage and yes, Portland was without its two best players. Be that as it may, the Thunder still looked like the team that entered the COVID-induced break as one of the league’s hottest teams. Schroder and SGA look playoff-ready. Andre Roberson made 3 of 4 shots. Steven Adams made us laugh while definitely not traveling. It was the Thunder of old.

But it was the level of play shown by guys like Mike Muscala, Hamidou Diallo and the rookie tandem of Lu Dort and leading scorer Darius Bazley that emerged as the takeaway from the scrimmage. In playoff time, it helps to get contributions from wherever you can get them. And if Muscala can keep giving the team good minutes while rookies like Bazley and Dort can continue to prove their value, what is this team capable of?

Right now, we don’t know what fall sports will look like. Will there be college football? What about high school? Will there be fans allowed at games of any kind? Truly, I have no idea. We don’t even know what Major League Baseball will do in the next week.

But as discouraging as that might seem, the NBA appears set to play through. And provided they do, the Thunder appear capable of something pretty special. And perhaps that could give Oklahomans something to talk about other than the virus, other than elections and other than all the other riff-raff in our world.

One can hope.

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