What did we learn during the Thunder’s win over the Pelicans?
With a game that ranked low on the intensity meter and meant almost nothing in the standings, it would have been real easy for the Thunder to not show up Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans.
There was limited crowd involvement at Chesapeake Energy Arena and limited talent from the New Orleans. So, what did we learn, what should we look forward to and something to think about after Friday night’s 116-94 Thunder victory?
We learned: The Thunder aren’t changing much
Kendrick Perkins took Friday night serious enough to get a technical foul making it seem like normal.
Meanwhile, coach Scott Brooks said before the game he didn’t anticipate the Thunder giving any players any extra rest. So with so little to gain and, actually not that much to lose, there was no reason to suit up Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook , much less play them real minutes. But Brooks kept his word and the two played deep into the third quarter.
Obviously this "new" Thunder lineup, which features all of its regular starters for just the second game in a row, needs minutes and time to get reacquainted. There are only three more games left in the regular season. You don’t want to wait until the playoffs start to try to get back in rhythm, so Brooks played the regulars and went at Friday like normal.
Even if he didn’t have to.
"It’s good to have them back to get ready for the playoffs," Brooks said of the starters all playing together again.
We can look forward to: No, not Detroit
The Pistons come to town Wednesday, the last home game of the season and it doesn’t look to be a game that will interest anyone. The Thunder’s position in the Western Conference will be decided and the Pistons have long been off every NBA radar.
But the good news is, it’s almost over. The playoffs will start and the interest level will pick up.
The good news is there will be some reason to pay attention to the last few games. The Western Conference standings toward the bottom of the playoff contenders is still undecided, so some standings watching is in order.
Phoenix, Dallas, Memphis or even Golden State could be a Thunder opponent in the first round.
Only math is keeping the Thunder from officially being the No. 2 seed in the West. OKC won’t be able to catch San Antonio and won’t fall behind No. 3 Los Angeles. OKC has a Sunday game at Indiana, Monday in New Orleans and then home Wednesday against the Pistons.
Something to think about: Serge Ibaka
If Ibaka would have played the fourth quarter, he might have earned a rare style of triple-double. Ibaka had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
On one possession, Ibaka chased down Austin Rivers, blocked his shot and then ran the length of a court for a dunk on a feed from Durant.
Ibaka was complete on Friday. He was six-of-eight shooting. "I thought Serge was spectacular," Brooks said. "Blocked shots, he had eight tonight, but he altered probably 10 others."
Ibaka is the third of the Thunder’s "Big Three," but often gets lost or disappears. Friday, he was a big reason the Pelicans shot 40 percent.
"He’s a big factor," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "Blocking shots and scoring the ball. He’s pretty big."
Something else to think about: The role of Caron Butler
From the moment he got to the Thunder, you could tell he was a player Brooks was going to count on. Brooks trusts veterans, which is why Derek Fisher and now Butler seem to get a lot of minutes.
Butler hasn’t disappointed either. He was just two-of-five shooting Friday, but what he provides is another legit scorer.
For the better part of four seasons, the Thunder have been trying to find a third piece to go with Durant and Westbrook. There have been all sorts of players and all sorts of situations but no one has been a consistent contributor. It’s too soon to say Butler is that guy, but he’s another piece to go along with Jackson and Ibaka. Butler can shoot the 3-pointer and also has the ability to create his own shot.
"The guys love him," Brooks said. "He has a good way about him. You can see that in his play and he practices the same way. He can make shots. He’s done it for over a decade. He knows how to play."
Butler doesn’t have to be great, but he’s going to have to be an option. Count on him playing valuable minutes in the playoffs and count on him being in the game in the fourth quarter, while younger players Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will fall out of the playoff rotation.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK