So what's up with the Thunder all of a sudden on the road?
Next to the status of Kevin Durant's rib, that's now the biggest question facing this team.
It's also one you could pose to five different people within the organization and possibly get five different answers, most of which might seek to sugarcoat the ugly truth, which is the Thunder is in a real rut at the moment.
Oklahoma City is just 3-4 in the past seven road games. Over that span, the Thunder has allowed 107.2 points per game and 46.8 percent shooting.
Not exactly the type of numbers that validate the Thunder as a defensive-minded team.
“We just got to be better,” Durant said when asked what gives. “No excuses.”
Saturday's loss at Cleveland summarized the recent road struggles. The Thunder gave up 115 points, the most it has allowed in a regulation game this season, and allowed Cleveland to score 58 points in the final 19 minutes — 39 in the fourth quarter.
“It's always concerning when we don't play defense the way we're capable of playing,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Is it going to be the end of the world? No, because we always come back and pride ourselves on what we do and stick with the basic fundamentals; and that is guarding the ball, that is helping off the ball and that is rebounding the ball. And we usually do that. We've done that pretty much all season long. It's unfortunate the last few games on the road we haven't.”
At 15-9, the Thunder still owns the second-best road record in the West, which shows how successful the team has been away from home for much of the year. Still, in large part because of the recent road failures, the Thunder has relinquished the top spot in the conference and has fallen to second place in the standings behind San Antonio. OKC also is now just two games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers — who are dealing with their own set of struggles — for the 3 seed.
In addition to possibly surrendering home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by falling from the 1-seed to the 2-seed, a fall to the 3-seed also would mean the Thunder likely would match up with a more dangerous team like Denver or Golden State as opposed to Utah, Houston or Portland.
That's why these current road issues are significant in the short term.
In the long run, the Thunder will have to win on the road at some point to secure the title. Though the Thunder successfully stole home-court advantage from San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, the three straight losses at Miami in the championship round showed just how critical it is to maintain consistency away from home.
One reason for optimism even in spite of the alarming defensive numbers is the Thunder has lost its past four road games by an average of 5.5 points, a clear sign that games are still competitive and the team has had a chance to win in crunch time.
Additionally, the recent string of setbacks and close calls on the road has come against a higher quality of competition. When the Thunder was 9-4 away from home the bulk of those wins came against mostly mediocre teams. Despite being 6-5 in the last 11 road games, three of those defeats have come against Denver, Golden State and the Lakers, three of the more talented teams in the league.
“We're playing against teams, besides the Lakers maybe, that likes to have a high pace to the game, a lot of shots,” added Thabo Sefolosha. “I think we all got to do a better job, mainly not giving up second-chance points. I think we play pretty well initially but then sometimes give up the offensive rebound and some easy baskets down low.”
Fatigue is something that never will be used as a crutch by the Thunder. But it also can't be ruled out while searching for answers. Saturday's game at Cleveland was the completion of 12 of 15 games on the road.
“It could be a little midseason funk,” said Kevin Martin. “But that just shows us that we're nowhere near where we want to be, or a finished product. So we have some work to do.”