Scott Brooks has heard all about old pal Charles Barkley's analysis.
But when it comes to his team, the Thunder coach just doesn't care for what his former teammate thinks.
“I respect Charles. I played with him,” Brooks said. “He has an opinion, and usually it's pretty good. He might be a little off on this one.”
Barkley, of course, is the Thunder's biggest and most prominent critic. As the most strident analyst on TNT, Barkley has turned the Thunder into his personal punching bag. He's now in his third season of overlooking and underestimating Oklahoma City, once again reasoning that the Thunder is “a jump-shooting team” whose style won't produce postseason success largely because of a lack of low-post scoring and the team having only three scoring threats.
But it begs the question, does Chuck have a point? Is this Thunder team one that is now built for the big-time, or are we simply watching a tremendously talented squad rack up regular season wins that ultimately won't matter come playoff time?
“You only can judge yourself on what you are presented each year,” Brooks said. “And we're doing pretty good right now. The good thing about our team and our staff is we're not really concerned with where people put us in their ranking system. We just have to do our job and try to do it as best we can and see where that takes us.”
At 22-7, the Thunder will walk into Friday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena against Golden State as the best team in Western Conference. Oklahoma City is on a seesaw with Chicago for ownership of the league's best record.
But is the Thunder actually getting better and moving closer to the level of a championship-caliber team as the record suggests?
“I'm happy where we are, but you still want to keep moving forward and keep improving the team as the season goes along,” Brooks said.
Through 29 games, we've seen the Thunder display some good, some bad and, frankly, some ugly (see chart). But, as Brooks said, the effort and energy has been present most nights, leading to extremely impressive consistency in the results.
“Those are the things I've always believed should be the easiest thing to do,” Brooks said. “Some players and some teams I've been on, they don't really do that as consistently as they should but we do.”
With the exception of a stunning loss at Washington on Jan. 18, the Thunder's focus has not been an issue. As a result, the Thunder has had only one losing streak this year.
“We've done a whole lot of things well, otherwise we wouldn't have the best record in the (conference),” said center Kendrick Perkins. “As a young team, you've got to be thrilled with how the guys have challenged themselves to come this far. You don't find that in many young teams, the consistency of winning. So it's been huge.”
Once again, we're seeing the Thunder build character throughout the regular season. Regardless of what's happened in the first 43 minutes of a game, the Thunder generally has found a way to finish strong. OKC is 5-2 in games decided by four points or less, the lone losses being at Washington and Wednesday at Houston.
“I think we've improved every year the last couple of years,” Brooks said. “This year we're continuing to work on ways to finish games.”
The weaknesses are glaring.
“We have a good record, but we still have things that we have to get better at,” Brooks said. “Offensive rebounds, we give up too many of those. The turnovers, we give up too many of those. That's something that we have to control. Those are areas that we should get better in.”
Brooks said he'd like for his team to keep their turnovers around 14 per game. Currently the Thunder leads the league in giveaways at 17.1 a night.
“We are an aggressive team. We are an attack team,” Brooks said. “We like to take it to the edge. That's an advantage, and sometimes that's a disadvantage for us. But we have to be an aggressive team.”
If there's any sign of hope it's that the Thunder's current starting lineup still hasn't played a full season together. Naturally, the core will continue to grow as it receives more court time. And the youth of this team is still scary.
“We just got to keep preaching team, team, team and not individuals,” Perkins said. “We can't be having hidden agendas. We got to throw that out the window. We got to keep preaching team. If guys lose themselves in the team, I think we'll go a long way.”
And the best thing is there's still plenty of time to shore up the trouble areas before it's win or go home.
“We got a ways to go. We got time to clean it up,” Perkins said. “I think the main thing is we just need to keep building toward April and May and just keep getting better until then.”
Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* Oklahoma City and Golden State are third and fourth in the NBA in scoring. The Thunder is averaging 101.2 points per game. The Warriors are averaging 99 points per game. This is the third of three meetings between these two teams. The Thunder won the first meeting 120-109 and took the second game 119-116.
* This is the start of a five-game home stand for the Thunder.
* Golden State is 3-6 on the road this season.
Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.
G; Russell Westbrook; 6-3; 22.8; 5.0; 5.5
G; Daequan Cook; 6-5; 5.9; 2.4; 0.2
F; Kevin Durant; 6-9; 27.0; 8.1; 3.2
F; Serge Ibaka; 6-10; 8.0; 7.2; 0.5
C; Kendrick Perkins; 6-10; 4.5; 5.7; 0.9
Pos.; Player; Ht.; Pts.; Reb.; Ast.
G; Stephen Curry; 6-3; 16.4; 4.2; 6.6
G; Monta Ellis; 6-3; 22.0; 3.4; 6.0
F; Dorrell Wright; 6-9; 11.0; 4.4; 1.8
F; David Lee; 6-9; 19.0; 10.1; 2.6
C; Andris Biedrins; 7-0; 2.5; 4.8; 0.3