Kevin Durant was asked following Tuesday's loss to Portland if his team's sense of urgency is rising in light of the Oklahoma City Thunder's two-game losing streak.
“What?” Durant asked, sounding shocked at the question. “You think we panicking?”
A small crowd of reporters couldn't help but chuckle at the response. But in a way, plenty of people, both in the media and in the team's fan base, perhaps needed to hear a rhetorical retort like that from Durant. If nothing else, it provided some perspective.
After opening the year with five straight wins, the Thunder looked the part of the championship contender many claimed it would be coming into this season. That winning streak, though, masked mistakes which became more glaring with the Thunder dropping its past two by a combined 23 points.
“It's not like we're getting down on ourselves,” Durant said. “We're seven games into the season.”
It seems that reality has been lost everywhere but inside the Thunder's locker room.
“We have to keep improving,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But our guys understand that. They understand this is not the final product that you will see.”
The two-game skid will now serve as a reminder, a humbling one in which Oklahoma City will look to learn from before it retakes the court for a three games in three nights test that start Friday.
“Sometimes you need losses to remind you that you got to get better,” said forward Nick Collison. “You wish it wasn't like that. You wish you could always realize you need to improve. But, human nature, sometimes you get a little lax when you're winning.”
In the first five games, the Thunder held its opponents to 40.6 percent shooting and an average of 96.6 points. But the wins overshadowed how each game included either blown double-digit leads or numerous breakdowns defensively.
At the other end, Durant scored at least 30 points in four of those first five, single-handedly bailing out an occasionally sloppy offense with his scoring brilliance. Collectively, the Thunder was averaging 19.8 assists against 18.4 turnovers.
“We played well enough to win those games, but there were still stretches in all of those games where we struggled,” Collison said.
The same struggles ultimately are what have led to the past two losses.
Against Dallas, the Thunder had just 12 assists and committed 14 turnovers. The lack of ball movement led to just 40.3 percent shooting, a season-low 87 points and, subsequently, a 13-point drubbing. Meanwhile, the defensive mistakes became more pronounced, as the Mavs shot a season-high 48.8 percent and racked up 56 points in the paint.
Against Portland, the Thunder's late-game execution issues resulted in the Blazers outscoring OKC 52-40 in the second half, while Portland held the home team to 34.2 percent shooting over the final 24 minutes. More one-on-one offense again became the source of the Thunder's undoing, whereas the Blazers used effective ball screens and ball movement to get high-percentage shots.
“It seems like we're 40 feet from the basket trying to create something a lot,” Collison said. “So our overall offense needs to get better.”
Although technically an off day, Wednesday was used as a light day by players and coaches to return to the gym and shore up problem areas. Thursday's session will be much of the same. Collison said the team needs to have a good practice Thursday and break down film to focus on the areas that have been problematic.
“We obviously need to improve on a lot of things,” Collison said. “But we still like our team. We just need to play better.”