Westbrook, Thunder start post-Durant Era vs. 76ers

BY foxsports • October 25, 2016

The Oklahoma City Thunder are starting over without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and the Philadelphia 76ers are starting over with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

Philadelphia, however, will have to wait a while longer for top overall draft pick Ben Simmons.

The two teams square off in an NBA season opener Wednesday night in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

The Thunder went 55-27 last season, but lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals after building a 3-1 lead. Oklahoma City traded Ibaka, a veteran forward, to the Orlando Magic and saw Durant, a perennial All-Star, sign a free agent contract with Golden State.

That would appear to put the bulk of the offensive burden on Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who averaged 23.4 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season.

"It's not totally up to me how we play," Westbrook told USA Today. "We have to adjust to how guys play. My job is to be able to adjust to Steven (Adams) and (Andre) Roberson; those guys have gotten better. We have to be able to adjust to the team you have, adjust on a night-in, night-out basis how you want to play."

Adams, a rugged 7-foot center from New Zealand, is expected to improve upon last season's averages of 8.0 points and 6.7 rebounds after playing well in the playoffs. Roberson, known for his defense, scored at a 4.8 point-per-game clip last season.

Westbrook's supporting cast also includes guard Victor Oladipo, who came over from Orlando in the Ibaka trade after averaging 16 points a game last year from the Magic. Rookie forward Domantas Sabonis, who was also part of that deal, is expected to contribute off the bench.

The Sixers, whose 10-72 record last season fell one loss short of equaling the all-time record for futility, will finally unveil Embiid and Saric.

The third pick in the 2014 draft, Embiid has missed the last two seasons as a result of two foot surgeries.

Saric, who was acquired in a draft-day deal from Orlando in 2014, played overseas.

Both showed promise in the preseason. Embiid, a native of Cameroon, averaged 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in just 14.7 minutes a game while Saric, a Croatian, averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds over 21.1 minutes.

"I can't wait (for Wednesday's game)," Embiid told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "That's going to be my first official NBA game. I just went through the preseason. I thought I got better game-by-game. I'm looking to finally get that first game."

Simmons, a forward from LSU, fractured his right foot in training camp and underwent surgery in early October. He will be out until at least January.

The Sixers will also be without guard Jerryd Bayless (right wrist ligament damage) for at least two weeks, and center/forward Nerlens Noel (left knee surgery) for three to five weeks.

Center Jahlil Okafor was also limited to a single preseason game because of a sore right knee.

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