Thunder coach Scott Brooks called Sunday's first quarter defense against Portland some of the best his team has played all year.
It seems fitting that the performance came on the heels of one of the team's worst.
That's been the Thunder's M.O. for much of the year.
And therein lies the problem.
Oklahoma City has been way too erratic. The unpredictability seen in the past two games is a microcosm of the most unnerving trend the Thunder has displayed all year. Now, with 21 games remaining starting with Tuesday's at Utah, the Thunder is searching to instill some consistency once and for all. That has become the chief goal of the current Western Conference leader before the regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
“If we come out every night with the same effort, it's going to be hard for other teams to beat us,” said guard Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder on Friday allowed San Antonio to score 30 first-quarter points on 55 percent shooting. The Spurs out-rebounded the Thunder 18-7 in the opening period en route to building a lead as large as 27 points before winning by nine. San Antonio never trailed.
Against the Blazers, the Thunder responded by yielding just 15 first-quarter points to Portland on 26 percent shooting. OKC out-rebounded the Blazers 17-9 in the first frame and went on to lead by as much as 21 points. This time, the Thunder never trailed.
“We need to come into every game with that same focus and that same mindset of being ready to play every possession, because we can be really good when we're locked in and active and when we're the aggressors on both ends,” said Nick Collison. “We just have too many stretches where we're not locked in like we should be.”
Since the All-Star break, the Thunder has really struggled to sustain a consistent effort. Oklahoma City is 7-4 since the break and is just 5-4 in its past nine games. All four of those losses came as a result of sluggishness. Three of the defeats were at home.
“The season can get to you, especially this late in the year, if you let it,” Collison said. “The schedule can bring you down a little bit to where you're not coming in with the same edge. And that's what you really have to fight.
“If you really want to be a good team, you have to fight that and get up and get your mind ready to play from the tip every game; and then be able to hopefully keep that edge through 48 minutes. That's really hard to do.”
The Thunder at times has shown its ability to maintain a high level of focus. The team started the season on a five-game winning streak and bounced back from its only two-game losing streak of the year by stringing together seven straight wins. But blemishes and setbacks have dotted the schedule every three games or so dating to a stunning three-point road loss at Washington on Jan. 18.
If the monotony of the schedule or the mediocrity of recent opponents has contributed to the Thunder's inconsistency, then the current stretch should grab the team's full attention.
Starting with Tuesday's game against the Jazz, the Thunder's next 10 opponents are all battling for playoff spots. Only Utah, Minnesota and Portland are currently on the outside looking in.
The other seven games are against the L.A. Lakers, Clippers, Miami (twice), Chicago, Memphis and Indiana.
“We got a tough stretch of games coming up,” Brooks said. “We have a tough one in Utah, and that's always a tough place to play and they're playing good basketball.”
Will the Thunder show that it's now ready to doing the same?