The Oklahoma City Thunder officially made it through the first quarter of the season following Sunday night's 114-109 home win over Golden State.
And though there has been plenty of ups and downs through these first 21 games, a 14-7 record puts the Thunder on pace to finish with 55 wins.
â€œI feel good at this point,â€ said Kevin Durant. â€œWe've got to tighten up some things on both sides, of course. But winning is the name of the game. We're finding ways to win. That's what good teams do no matter what.â€
Oklahoma City is now 11-1 in games decided by seven points or less. The Thunder starts a three-game road trip at Chicago on Monday with a 7-2 road record. Those two stats, perhaps more than anything, tell the story of a tough-minded, playoff team.
â€œWe're doing a lot of good things,â€ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
As always, though, Brooks wants improved defense.
The Thunder has allowed 103.6 points per game and 47 percent shooting from the field. Both figures rank in the bottom third in the league.
â€œWe still have to improve our defense and get that field-goal percentage down,â€ Brooks said. â€œThat's something that we're aware of.â€
Brooks, however, said he has been pleased with his team's fourth-quarter defense. Before allowing the Warriors to score 39 points in the final period, the Thunder had allowed just a 23.9-point average in fourth quarters, the lowest of any regulation period.
The Thunder also has become much better at taking care of the basketball. After leading the league in giveaways at 16.2 per game two seasons ago, and tying for fourth-to-last at 15 per game last season, OKC has cut down its turnovers to 13.9 thus far in 2010-11.
â€œThat's an area that we wanted to improve the last two years,â€ Brooks said.
One of the biggest areas of development has been the Thunder's foul shooting. OKC ranks second in the NBA at 31.4 free throw attempts per game and leads the league with an 85.3 percent clip. The Thunder shot just 25.2 foul shots per game in 2008-09 and averaged 27 attempts last season.
The increase can be attributed to the Thunder becoming more assertive attacking the basket. Durant and Russell Westbrook both rank in the top five in free throw attempts, Westbrook at 9.2 per game and Durant averaging nine free throw attempts.
An unquantifiable aspect has been the team's chemistry. Although Durant and Westbrook have separated themselves as the clear stars of the squad, last season's camaraderie has carried over into this season. Players continue to play for each other as Brooks so often preaches, and their unselfishness has resulted in a roster that possesses multiple threats who can change the course of a game.
Westbrook is putting together a career year across the board with averages of 24 points, 5.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists. Jeff Green scored a career-high 37 points in the Thunder's 123-120 triple overtime win at New Jersey last Wednesday and is averaging a career-high 18.8 points this season. And Serge Ibaka scored a career-high 22 points in a 115-108 win at Utah and had 19 points and eight rebounds Sunday night. Ibaka's averages of 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots are also ahead of his rookie averages of last year.
â€œIt's good that it seems like any given night somebody else has stepped up and helped us win games,â€ Brooks said.