Thabo Sefolosha headed for the doorway of the Thunder locker room, ready to start his vacation.
Thabo's Thunder had just lost to the Heat 110-100 Thursday night. The All-Star Game loomed, and while Thabo is a splendid ballplayer, All-Star status has yet to be pinned on his lapel.
“To be honest, we kind of need the break,” Thabo said after a brief stop to chat. “Get away from the court, get away from one another.”
We all can understand that. Heck, we all could use a break from the Thunder.
Welcome to the burden of expectation. Welcome to the story when the fairy tale is all grown up. From Kevin Durant's league-leading 11 technical fouls to Russell Westbrook's Peter Pan act to the angst over Scotty Brooks' rotations to Kevin Martin's father commenting, on the bottom of a Darnell Mayberry story, about the Thunder's lack of ballsharing, this has been a tension-filled season.
And Miami's rout of the Thunder on Valentine's night didn't help matters. The Heat dominated for three quarters, then went into cruise control.
“I think we didn't play with enough energy.” Thabo said. “Sense of urgency, you know, we didn't really have tonight.”
Said Durant, “I don't know if it was nerves or if we were just too excited.” And neither does anyone else.
But the break gives us a chance to breathe.
The Thunder is 39-14. Through 53 games last season, the Thunder was 40-13. That's a tiny step back for a franchise known for annually taking major steps.
Yet that's not alarming for a team that five days before the season traded one of its cornerstones for future stability. Sure, these Boomers would be better if James Harden had signed or they had just kept him and let him walk after the season.
But trading Harden fortified the future, both financially and competitively. Sam Presti now has more resources to put the right parts around Durant and Westbrook, and if you don't think that's important, check out LeBron's three Miami teams. LeBron's getting better and better (same as Durant and Westbrook), but so is Miami's roster.
Thus once the decision was made to trade Harden, this became a transition year. Win or lose, a transition year.
The trouble is, Thunder history and Thunder culture, limited though both are, do not cotton to defeat. Patience doesn't come easy to us, since we've never had to actually use it on the NBA stage. Oklahoma City had to wait one solitary season for a franchise — the year between the Hornets' departure and the Thunder's arrival — and one solitary season for a good team. Nobody in the NBA's crying a river for OKC.
And it doesn't help that the Thunder players aren't crazy about pacing, either. Westbrook plays every game like he's dribbling into a burning building, and Durant treats rest like it's punishment. He sat out 28 seconds of the Heat game — LeBron sat out eight minutes — and that only because Durant fouled out.
So when the Thunder loses, especially a marquee game like the Heat, especially a mental-barrier game like the Heat, it seems as if the Thunder has derailed.
But the truth is, Durant and Westbrook still are only 24. Serge Ibaka is 23. More help is on the way. The Thunder is ahead of schedule, not behind schedule, no matter what the scoreboard said when Miami was in town.
That's why the break came at a good time. To remind us, that every time we get impatient and think the Thunder can't scale a certain height, be it avoid 70 defeats in 2008-09 or compete with the Lakers in that 2010 playoff series or rally against the Spurs in the 2012 West finals, they remind us otherwise.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.