The Thunder returned home carrying only its third losing streak of the season after a winless two-game trip to L.A. and Denver. And when you think of it like that, the trip west can’t be considered terribly disappointing. Losses happen.
But the Thunder’s performances against the best teams in the league have left more to be desired. The Thunder is just 5-8 against the top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences. Against current playoff teams, the Thunder’s record is 12-10. So, is the Thunder a contender or a pretender at this point? We ask our panel in today’s question of the day.
What does the winless west coast trip against the Lakers and Nuggets tell us about where the Thunder ranks among the league’s best teams?
It doesn’t tell us anything. Not anything of substance. I say you can take as much good as bad out of the trip. Durant shoots what, 33 percent?, on the trip, and yet the Thunder loses a tight one to one of the best teams in the league (LA) and a tight one to a talented (if dysfunctional) team playing for its life and on its beloved homecourt (Denver). The Thunder are exactly where we thought they were. Among the teams, maybe even at the top of the group, that are just below the LA/San Antonio/Boston/Miami elite level.
It shows the Thunder is a bit closer to these teams than a year ago. Despite horrendous shooting and poor defense at key moments, the Thunder had a chance to win both games up until the final minute. You’re not going to beat two playoff teams on the road by shooting a combined 5 for 37 (.135) from 3-point range while allowing both opponents to shoot 50-plus percent from the field. Here are the real questions: 1. Are these problems correctable? 2. Does the Thunder have the ability to shoot better and defend better at key moments? 3. Is OKC good enough to make clutch plays at clutch moments? Unless all three answers are “Yes,” “Yes” and “Yes,” the Thunder is still a pretender.
The trip told us the Thunder is still a ways away from contention. OKC has improved, no doubt. But some of the same issues from last season are still prevalent in this year’s squad. When games come down to the final quarter, the Thunder turns into a jump shooting team. The Thunder still hasn’t found effective ways to get its best player the ball in good positions. And opponents still get pretty much anything they want on the offensive end. These past two games were repeats of what we’ve seen for much of a year and a half now. So, for now, it looks like the Thunder on paper is a top four team in the West. On the court, however, there looks to be a mighty big gap between the Thunder and the Lakers, Spurs and Mavs.