During practice Saturday — and unbeknownst to his team — he had a competition to decide Minnesota's next starting lineup. Sparked by three new starters, Minnesota beat Oklahoma City 112-94 on Sunday night.
"We talked about how everything counts. Practice counts. Every time you step on the floor, you go and compete," Saunders said. "Yesterday they picked three teams. They picked the teams. We had a draft. And the team that started tonight won the series. They won four games. They didn't know it yesterday and at the walk-through today, I told them that since they won yesterday, those are the guys we were going to go with."
Saunders said he had not tied that experiment before.
"I was happy with the way those guys came out and played. I was happy the way the guys off the bench came out," Saunders said. "I thought Rick (Rubio) was much more aggressive tonight. He was very active defensively. Active offensively, getting to the free-throw line and making a couple of shots. I liked the way he played tonight."
Mo Williams scored 19 points, and Rubio, Kevin Martin and Robbie Hummel each added 13 points for Minnesota (2-2). Martin, playing against his former team, made his preseason debut before 16,901 fans at the BOK Center.
Perry Jones scored 21 points for Oklahoma City (2-4). Russell Westbrook had 11 points in 23 minutes, and Serge Ibaka finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.
Oklahoma City had 22 turnovers.
"We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "You give a team a lot of turnovers, and they can get out in transition. The game becomes easy for them." Minnesota finished shooting 46.6 percent against the Thunder.
The Thunder played with Jeremy Lamb because of a left heel contusion.
Timberwolves: Center Kyrylo Fesenko didn't make the trip due to illness.
Thunder: Made the short bus ride from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, which took about 1 hour, 20 minutes ... Played its sixth annual preseason game at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, falling to 3-3 ... Didn't have seven players, including regulars Kevin Durant (Jones fracture), Kendrick Perkins (quad), Nick Collison (ankle), Reggie Jackson (wrist contusion) and Jeremy Lamb (left heel contusion)
KEEPING STREAK ALIVE
Oklahoma City's Westbrook picked up a technical foul in his third consecutive game after disputing an official's call in the first quarter.
Andrew Wiggins hit the floor hard in the fourth quarter, causing the Minnesota bench concern for a few moments. The No. 1 overall draft pick was on the floor for a few moments before walking back to the bench without help. "I was more scared because he hit his head," Saunders said. "He said his butt hurt more than his head."
CONTINUING LIFE WITHOUT DURANT
The Thunder are still trying to find itself without league MVP Durant. "It will be different," Westbrook said. "There are definitely going to be times where I can take myself out of the equation and find a way to constantly lead throughout games and especially without Kevin."
Minnesota faces Indiana in Minneapolis on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma City hosts Utah on Tuesday night.