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OKC Thunder Welcome Return of Jeremy Lamb

Now-healthy Jeremy Lamb made his season debut for the Thunder, who are still missing seven players.

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Slowly, very slowly, the Oklahoma City Thunder players are trickling back into action. While awaiting the return of injured All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team may keep racking up losses. Their 1-5 start isn’t too surprising given the dearth of available players and a tough early schedule. Supporters can only hope the win-loss numbers don’t get too out of hand otherwise any thought of a postseason may be out the window. The season started without Durant, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett. Westbrook was injured in game two, while Andre Roberson and Perry Jones were injured in later games.

Suffice to say, it’s been a challenging season thus far for the Thunder. The silver lining in this strange turn of events is the fact that nobody was seriously injured and that all players should be healthy and ready to go within four to five more weeks. Jackson returned in the fourth game, and Lamb made his return in game six.

Lack of offense is not a typical concern for Oklahoma City. Over the past four seasons, they have ranked among the top five in points per game with an average of 105 points scored. Now they are dead last in the league with an average 90.5 points per game. The return of a shooter like Lamb was sorely needed.

“It’s big for us (to) give us another guy who can score,” Nick Collison told Basketball Insiders about Lamb’s return. “It adds a lot of different plays and sets we can roll, because we have a guy who is mobile and who can come off screens and play in pick-and-roll, so it’s big for us. He played well, especially in his first night back, so we’ll need more of that.”

Lamb, now entering his third year, is projected to have a bigger role with the departure of ex-teammates Caron Butler and Thabo Sefolosha. Whether he claims a starting role this season will be revealed when the full roster is intact. The role could go to newly-acquired Morrow, defensive-minded Roberson, combo guard Jackson or Lamb.

In the 2013-14 season, Lamb played well on the offensive end in the first half of the campaign, but had a decidedly weaker second half/postseason with decreased opportunities to play. The latter was attributable to his defensive deficiencies and the Butler acquisition. Lamb had a nice showing in this year’s preseason, averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in five games. However, he struggled mightily with shots beyond the arc, making four of a total 28 attempts. During three games in the Orlando Summer League, he connected on just four of 23 three-point attempts, and averaged 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.

In his first game back this season, Lamb recorded 17 points and three rebounds, going one-of-six on three-pointers. His touches looked good, but he wasn’t thrilled with the results.

“I missed the valuable shots I wanted to make,” Lamb said. “I’m surprised I missed that many threes.”

“I thought Jeremy came in and gave us good minutes,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He still has to compete on the defensive end much better. That’s one thing we’ve talked about, but I like the fact that he competed on the offensive end. He has to be a two-way player.”

The struggles on the defensive end has been a consistent knock on Lamb since he entered the league. Right now, the team is just pleased to have someone who can add points to the scoreboard.

“He looked good. Real good,” Jackson said of Lamb. “He’s going to get back in his rhythm. He was aggressive. He’s playing well. He’s going to figure out where he can attack. We’ve all got to get better defensively. I think he’s gotten better. He’s going to continue to grow. He’s a big part of our team. He helps us.”

“Oh, Jeremy played great, especially for his first game back,” guard Sebastian Telfair added. “He allows us to continue to play hard defense. We know we have somebody down on the other end that’s going to put up some points for us.”

Lamb says he’s feeling 100 percent healthy now and shared that his back issue was related to an injury suffered in his rookie season. He was candid in the moments following his first game of the season.

‘I was tired,” Lamb admitted. “(I’m) trying to get back in the groove, trying to find my spots, but I was happy to be back out there with my teammates. When I was out, and we were short a lot of people, and just seeing how they were fighting, it was encouraging. So happy to be a part of it.

“It was terrible (missing games). Seeing them fight, you always want to be out there to fight with them. It was real tough not to be with the team, but try to stay part of the team. Try to text them, watch all the games, just stay engaged.”

Knowing players are on the track to full recovery is helping the Thunder digest this awful start to the 2014-15 season.

“The spirit of our team is still good,” Brooks said. “We’re not going to throw a white flag.

“We’re not happy about it. We’re not going to lay down and feel sorry for ourselves. That’s not us. I know we’re 1-5. It’s not what we wanted. It’s not what we envisioned going into the season. We’re not waiting for guys to come back either. It’s not what we’re doing. We’ve had a guy come back. I’m sure a guy’s going to come back in the next couple of games or so, then we’re going to have more guys after that. We’re not waiting for them.”

It is suspected Brooks was alluding to the imminent return of sharpshooter Morrow. Durant and rookie McGary should follow in about four weeks, then Westbrook in perhaps five weeks.

“I think we all want to see the big picture and realize that there’s a lot of season left,” Collison said. “We are going to get guys back, and we’re going to be a better team, but we’ve also got to get some wins. What we can’t do is have periods where our intensity isn’t as high. We have to play extremely hard to win with the group we’ve got.”

It’s too early to know with any certainty how the Thunder’s season will play out. All signs were pointing to another successful year before the rash of injuries began. Perhaps the two superstars can right the ship in time.

Susan Bible covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for Basketball Insiders and writes about all NBA teams. She is a Senior Newslines Editor and contributes to fantasy basketball coverage.

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