NEW YORK – Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin has struggled on the road this season, which can be a tad intimidating when your next appearance is on the biggest stage of all.
Oklahoma City (44-16) faces the New York Knicks (36-21) at 7 p.m. today in Madison Square Garden – aka The World's Most Famous Arena, where visitors can earn an official stamp of approval with a superlative effort.
If you can make shots there, you can make shots anywhere. It's up to you, New York, New York.
The affable Martin has been able to tolerate his road struggles whenever they occur, playfully joking he forgot to pack his jumper for the trip.
Last Friday's last-second loss at Denver was intolerable, however.
Martin went 1 for 5 from the field in the 105-103 loss to the Nuggets. He missed his first four attempts and finished with three points and four turnovers. Perhaps even more distressing was that Martin hoisted just five shots in 24:21 of playing time.
If Martin was going to help Thunder folk forget James Harden, he certainly wasn't going to do it taking five measly shots.
Afterward, Martin was the most visibly upset player inside the Thunder locker room. His stall was located in a corner and Martin had turned his chair around to face the wall. It was as though Martin had just sentenced himself to a “timeout,” like a kid in elementary school.
Martin answered questions in barely more than a whisper.
“I put a lot of the blame on myself, if you want to put that out there,” Martin said. “It was just a really bad outing for me. I'm supposed to be a leader on that second group and I played like a rookie tonight. I'm going to put that on my plate for the second unit.”
Roughly 36 hours later, the Thunder posted its most impressive road victory of the season with a 108-104 survival against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Martin again struggled, missing his first six attempts and shooting just 3 for 12 from the field – 1 for 7 on 2-pointers (a layup) and 2 for 5 on 3-pointers. He ended up with 10 points and four steals in 23:47.
Afterward, Martin's smile had returned, no doubt thanks to the victory, not his shooting.
“I think a lot of people individually were pretty mad about their performance on Friday, especially me,” Martin said.
But there was more Martin wanted to share.
“I got a lot support from this team in the past 48 hours,” Martin said. “That last game really wasn't me. Team management and the players came up and stood by my side these past two days and it's something I'll never forget. I know I'm here to be the best player I can, whether that's scoring or making the right play.”
Martin's facial expression made it easy to discern his words were heartfelt, that perhaps he never had received such meaningful support in his nine NBA seasons.
Four-time All-Star Kevin Durant confirmed he was one of the players who spoke to Martin.
“Yeah, I always wrap my arm around him and just let him know that we're always going to need him,” Durant said. “He's going to always hit a big shot. (We) always believe in him. I'm not going to stop passing him the ball because he missed five or six shots because I know he wouldn't do that to me.
“I'm always going to believe in him, no matter if he's 0 for 10 at the time or 10 for 10. We just let him know that we know he's going to get it back. We know he's going to make the next shot and everybody in this organization believes in him, and that goes a long way.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said providing teammates with confidence “is what good teams do.”
“Good teams don't just turn their back on their teammate,” Brooks explained. “You have to be real with them. ‘Hey, you're struggling right now. We're going to find some better shots, some good shots, some easy shots that you can make.' ”
Martin's success rate depends on the area code (see chart). He averages almost four more points while shooting nearly eight percent better from the field and 15 percent better from 3-point range.
When the Thunder wins, Martin has averaged 15.4 points and shot 45.3 percent from the field.
When the Thunder loses, he has averaged 11.9 points and shot 42.2 percent from the floor.
Martin's scoring average is the lowest since his second season with the Sacramento Kings in 2005-06. Thereafter, Martin has averaged 20-plus points in five seasons and had been his team's leading scorer six straight years prior to coming to the Thunder five days before its 2012-13 season opener.
While Harden was a near-unanimous choice as last season's NBA Sixth Man of the Year, this season marks Martin's first full-time foray into the same reserve role. The 30-year-old Martin now plays third scoring fiddle to a pair of 24-year-olds in Durant (28.6 ppg) and Russell Westbrook (23.6).
“He's had to make a huge adjustment,” Durant said. “To come off the bench as the sixth man to a bunch of younger guys, that's an adjustment. He's not pouting. He's not upset he's not shooting a lot, or not getting a lot of plays called for him. He's just going out there and doing his job and he's trying to play as hard as he can. You've got to commend him for that.”
Thunder at Knicks
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV: TNT (Cox 31/HD 730, DirecTV 245, Dish 138, U-Verse 108/HD 1108)
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640
Three things to know
* While the Thunder was in New York City on Wednesday night resting for the game, the Knicks played at Detroit.
* Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is day-to-day with a sore knee. He and Kevin Durant are 1-2 for the scoring title.
* This is the first meeting between OKC and New York. The second will be April 7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.