OKLAHOMA CITY — There’s been almost no time. Yet, here we are.
The NBA preseason has already begun for some teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder will jump into the pool Tuesday night when they face the Houston Rockets in Tulsa, Okla.
The evening will pile up with firsts.
It’s not just an opportunity to see Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in OKC uniforms for the first time. The opener also gives fans a chance to check out the super duo of James Harden and Chris Paul, for whom the Rockets traded this summer, a pairing the basketball world is yet to witness in a game setting. And both couplets have less time than usual to make it work on the court.
The NBA moved its start date up a week this year, shortening the preseason in the process. Training camp, meanwhile, was only one week. But veteran Thunder point guard Raymond Felton believes the scrunched timing doesn’t make such a large difference.
“If anything, you like shorter training camp,” Felton said. “I’ve been to training camps when you got two-a-days, where you practice two hours, leave and come back again and practice for another two hours. The way we do it, we have one long practice, you get a lot in. I think that’s good.”
• Pressure: One element to look out for Tuesday night will be Felton pestering either Paul or Harden as one of the Rockets’ lead ball-handlers tries to dribble up the court.
The Thunder’s usual backup will be starting in place of Russell Westbrook, who coach Billy Donovan said is already ruled out for the game after receiving platelet-rich plasma injections in his left knee. And Felton is notorious for gunning with full-court pressure.
“Some?” Felton questioned when asked Monday if he might press a bit. “I’m doing that every night. You can definitely look forward to that starting tomorrow.”
Paul and Harden, of course, are two of the NBA’s craftiest dribblers. And Paul, especially, has loads of experience working against against a press, something he doesn’t mind much since he actually prefers to operate out of half-court sets.
Donovan, though, is encouraging Felton’s habits. If the vet wants it, go for it.
“It shortens the clock for the other team. It doesn’t allow them to get into the offense as quickly. You’re dealing with less screening actions,” Donovan said. “He’s done it for a long time, and he’s good at it, and he kind of knows where to pick his spots. But him doing that kind of sets a tempo for us defensively.”
• Just like home: Felton has played for a quarter of the league, now. The Thunder make for his seventh team after stops in Charlotte, Denver, New York, Portland, Dallas and Los Angeles. But Oklahoma City is reminding him of a place he hasn’t stayed in the NBA.
“It’s a country atmosphere. It’s a family city. It’s a family feeling,” he said. “I grew up in South Carolina. It’s the same way. A person may not know you, but they drive by you in a car, they’re still going to blow their horn at you. They’re still going to speak. It’s the same feeling I get here, so I feel like being at home.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as a host of the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.