With Russell Westbrook back, pressure shifts to Scott Brooks

Chris Graythen

With the return of Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks now has eight weeks to figure out just how to optimize his roster for a playoff run.

Thursday night didn't go quite as expected for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I had a busy late afternoon, as I had a 5 p.m. deadline to make. The task? Get myself some delicious food from Ike's Love and Sandwiches in Oakland. (I got the MC Hammer, can't touch this.) That deadline? Getting myself in front of a television so I could watch the Miami Heat take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The purpose? To witness the return of Russell Westbrook to the NBA's best team. Oh happy day.

However, LeBron James and the Heat all turned on their collective Game Genies and smothered an OKC squad just trying to get its bearings after acquiring a top-five player at the trade deadline. In Miami's 103-81 victory, we remembered that the Heat have flashes of brilliance where their defensive pressure and offensive potency can eviscerate anything in their path.

One possible silver lining for the Thunder: We saw different lineups that can provide Scott Brooks ultimate flexibility moving forward into the NBA Playoffs. Here's three that piqued my interest.

Westbrook-Jackson-Jones-Durant-Ibaka

It's the lineup I've been dying to see since the beginning of the regular season. We've been deprived of it partially due to the repeated injuries of Westbrook, but the development of Perry Jones makes it a real possibility. We've seen Brooks roll out a few similar lineups in the past with Thabo Sefolosha or Jeremy Lamb playing in place of Westbrook in the lineup. When it's Sefolosha instead of Westbrook, the Thunder are allowing a microscopic 75.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. (Note that the Indiana Pacers lead the league, allowing 93.9 points per 100 possessions overall.) Of course, this is in just 30 minutes.

Nevertheless, with Westbrook back, this might be the Thunder's most athletic lineup, and yet they still match up quite well defensively.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NBA NEWSLETTER

Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.

Fisher-Jackson-Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka

It's the lineup that Scott Brooks seems to love the most, and I understand why. This is all Sam Presti's fault, because as it stands right now, Derek Fisher is the best spot-up three-point shooter on OKC's roster. While many thought players like Gary Neal or Jimmer Fredette could be added to the roster for this specific purpose, Brooks and Presti seem ultimately content with Fisher being a key guy to hit big shots. As a former Lakers hater, this still makes me shudder, but ultimately in clutch situations, this is the five I believe we'll see.

Perkins-Perkins-Perkins-Perkins-Perkins

Name the five best big men of all time ... wait, what? Oh, my bad Perk. (Hope the big fella's groin is okay though. Yikes.)

Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins

I know what you're saying, "Yo, Ed! That's the starting lineup!" I know. For as stubborn as Brooks has been, this is his starting five, and for the life of me I can't see it changing anytime soon. While matchups against Miami and Golden State have made it clear that flexibility in roster management will be crucial to the Thunder's title hopes, let us not forget that this five is the one that will ultimately have to plow their way through teams like Memphis in Round 1, Houston or the LA Clippers in Round 2 and the San Antonio Spurs in the West finals. If the Indiana Pacers shock the world and beat Miami in the East finals, then this lineup could still prove to be the most crucial.

For those who have said OKC should trade Kendrick Perkins, keep in mind that teams only shoot 40.2 percent when he's contesting a shot near the rim, according to SportVU data. Frankly, there's not another big man on OKC's roster who can consistently defend without fouling all the time. Nick Collison and Steven Adams are good in spells, but they accumulate fouls like I get parking tickets. Serge Ibaka and Jones simply aren't big enough, and OKC's not risking Kevin Durant on any big man like that consistently.

***

With Westbrook's injury now in the past, OKC now has eight weeks to determine what its set of rotations really look like. The good thing is that Brooks can put strong lineups that are both big and small and strong defensively. But the ultimate challenge is keeping all of this going while allowing Durant to play at peak levels like he did sans Westbrook and getting Westbrook back at peak levels too.

The loss on Thursday night was not a sign of impending doom. It was a trial by fire. If OKC can figure its lineups out in time, this season might end in a blaze of championship glory.

Happy Hour drink recommendation: King Cole - I love Old Fashioneds. This is an Old Fashioned with pineapple and Fernet Branca. You'll thank me later, especially after you have two of these. Like Dom Kennedy says, "Get Home Safely."

TGIF.

More from SBNation.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.