Scott Brooks said something last night that got me thinking.
It was in response to a question I posed about the Thunder failing to gain a game on the Spurs following Monday’s loss.
“We don’t go day to day and say ‘Guys, we got to get the No. 1 seed,’” Brooks started. “We know that you have to play well to win a playoff series and you’re going to have to win on the road to win a series a lot of times and we did it last year…So we just want to play better. Hopefully, we will continue to have good fortune with health and we just want to play good basketball come playoff time. We got a lot of basketball left before that happens.”
That last bit is what sent me back to the press room scratching my head.
The Thunder has plenty of basketball left? Really?
Let’s look at that.
The number of games remaining on the schedule says 18. Indeed, that’s a good amount of ball. That’s 72 quarters, 864 minutes. A lot of ball, as Brooks said.
But dig deeper and there’s a fundamental flaw in the final 18 contests.
Most of the contests are against bad to mediocre teams.
Eight of the final 18 game are against teams that are below .500. Five of those eight — Orlando (twice), Washington, Minnesota and Sacramento — are all at least 18 games below .500.
Oklahoma City has feasted on bad teams all season, with road losses at Washington and Cleveland being the only exceptions. So what will more thumpings of the league’s bottom feeders really prove?
Of the remaining 10 games, four are against teams that are middling playoff teams no more than three games above .500. The first is Wednesday against 33-31 Utah, which currently sits in eighth in the West. The Thunder plays its final game against Utah on April 9, by which time the Jazz could be eliminated from playoff contention. (Utah has lost seven of its past nine.) The other two games come against 32-29 Milwaukee, which sits in eighth in the East.
So 18 has quickly been reduced to six. That’s the real number of true tests remaining in the Thunder’s season. They are Denver (43-22), Memphis (42-19), San Antonio (49-15), Indiana (39-24), New York (38-23) and Golden State (36-29). Never mind the fact that the Thunder will have the benefit of playing Denver, San Antonio and New York at home.
A month and change remains in this marathon season. But quality opponents that can provide a championship caliber team still in need of sparring sessions are quickly vanishing.
That’s what makes Monday’s debacle at San Antonio even more disappointing.
Time is running out, and the Thunder flat out failed one of its last best tests.
“I think we’re fighting more for habits here, every day habits,” said Kevin Durant. “Taking care of the little things on the court; screening, making the right play no matter what, being on your spot on defense, being in your stance. We’re playing for habits. We’re not playing just for a 1-seed or home-court advantage. We know that’s important, but we’re playing to build our habits every single day. That’s what drives us. So we’re still working.”