Friday, November 19, 2010

66ers open season tonight at Bakersfield ... what to watch

The Tulsa 66ers begin their quest for the NBA D-League championship tonight in Bakersfield where they'll meet the Jam in the first of back-to-back games this weekend. Tulsa will be looking for better luck than it had last season in Bakersfield when it dropped both games.

Just four of Tulsa's 10 players were with the 66ers last season, meaning life on the road in the D-League could be a new experience for the majority of the players.

"We've been talking about how we're going to approach things on the road," Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts said. "These are guys who have played on big-time college programs in front of big road crowds. We're going to emphasize bringing energy and effort every night."

One of the players who will set the example for the newcomers is 6-foot-7 forward Larry Owens, the former Oral Roberts University star who started all 50 games for the 66ers last season. Owens averaged 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, then played for the D-League Select team in the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League.

Tulsa's other returnees include former ORU center Marcus Lewis, point guard Zabian Dowdell, and forward Latavious Williams, who finished 13th in the D-League in rebounding last season as a rookie, averaging 7.7 boards per outing.

"It's valuable to have those four guys on our team because there's a comfort level there from last season," Tibbetts said. "They know our philosophy and know what to expect from these road games."

Here are three things to watch in this weekend's series...

1. Does Tulsa have a lack of height? When the 66ers cut 7-footer Josh Lomers in the last round of cuts, that left rookie Perry Stevenson as the tallest Tulsa player on the roster at 6-9. Will that be a problem for the 66ers facing Bakersfield's 6-11 Luke Zeller and 6-10 Drew Naymick? We'll see.

2. Tulsa is the hunted, not the hunter. Last year the 66ers weren't expected to do much and surprised everyone with a strong season. This year, Owens, Williams, and the 66ers are well known throughout the league. Will that additional expectation play a role?

3. How will the rookies play? Tulsa traded for Robert Vaden and he's expected to be a scoring force this season. "Tweety" Carter is expected to help Dowdell at the point and Stevenson may be depended upon for some big minutes (and rebounds) inside. How will they play, and what kind of chemistry will evolve on this team?

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