OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook said Saturday that he wasn’t expecting “s—” from Melbourne United of Australia’s professional basketball league. He definitely wasn’t expecting a one-point win as the Thunder needed two blocks in the final six seconds from Josh Huestis to hold on 86-85.
“They did a good job,” Westbrook said. “They did a good job.”
With Paul George playing 39 minutes, Carmelo Anthony playing 31 and Westbrook playing 28 — all highs for the preseason — the Thunder struggled to find much rhythm or consistency against the scrappy Australian side. George hit just five of his 17 shots, Anthony went 6-of-19, and Westbrook was 3-of-10. That’s a combined 30.4 percent effort from the trio.
“Their aggressiveness probably at times took us out of some rhythm and flow, which was good,” Billy Donovan said, “and us having to work through that was really important.”
It has been a mild theme thus far in preseason as they work in two star pieces to play alongside Westbrook, who set a usage rate record last season en route to winning MVP. It’s also a bit of a touchy topic for Westbrook, as he tried to get in front of any conversation surrounding on-court chemistry issues or ragged offense on Saturday.
“We’re going to get it, man,” he said. “I think one thing key for everybody to know, especially you guys, you guys keep asking about the chemistry every damn day. We’re going to get it together. It’s a season-long thing, and it’s not going to happen overnight, and we’re going to get it together. You can keep asking us every day, but it’s not going to change what’s going to happen. We’re going to get it together. We’re all professionals. It’s something obviously we want to see work and make it happen and win a championship, so it’s going to be a process. So asking every day is not going to change that.”
Asked about the sluggish offense following Sunday’s game, Westbrook wasn’t interested in elaborating.
“What I tell you yesterday?” he said.
It’s obviously not a worry for the Thunder; their offensive firepower will work itself out. Defense has been the primary focus in camp. But it has been a noticeable trend — albeit in a small, three-game preseason snapshot — that George has found rhythm playing solo as Westbrook and Anthony sat. In the first two preseason games, George played in the third, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. On Sunday, as Anthony and Westbrook played extended minutes into the second half, George forced a few looks and didn’t find as much space as anticipated.
Then again, as Anthony noted, the Thunder had a fair number of decent looks that they simply missed. With their level of offensive talent, some of the perceived struggles will fade away when good players make shots.
“I’m not concerned with that at all,” Anthony said.
Westbrook, Anthony and George have spent only about 30 game minutes total on the floor together. There have been glimpses of their potential, with stops turning into quick transition hits, such as a third quarter burst Sunday, when Westbrook dropped a pass to a trailing Anthony for 3. Donovan is working to stagger the stars around the rest of the roster, appearing — at least for now — to prefer Anthony playing with the second unit and giving Westbrook and George more time as a tandem.
The Thunder have one preseason game left — Tuesday at Denver — before nine days off to prepare for their opener against the Knicks. It’s all a work in progress. Although a close call against Melbourne United certainly wasn’t something they expected, nobody is sweating a few rough patches, especially because there is a belief within the team that they can be special defensively.
“Our defense is good. That’s all that matters, man,” Westbrook said. “As long as we defend at a high level, offense is easy. Offense is easy. So we ain’t worried about that.”