San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he is still trying to figure out exactly how last year's Western Conference Finals suddenly flipped in the Thunder's favor. The Spurs won the first two games at home and OKC then swept the next four games to advance to the NBA Finals.
“I'm the one who said they committed an identity theft after those first two games,” Popovich said before Monday night's 107-93 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “Then we decided to play the way they played those first two games, but they were smarter and ended the series playing the right way and we played the way they did the first two games. It really is true. I'm still trying to figure it out, but we stopped trusting each other and we played in a crowd and we didn't hit the first open man and that's what they did for two games in a row. After that, they got it right.”
THE EBB TURNS
The Thunder and world champion Miami Heat share more in common than competing in last year's NBA Finals. They also have played the fewest road games so far this season, with eight each.
With so few games outside Chesapeake Energy Arena, it stands to reason OKC also has played the most home games in the league with 16. However, the Thunder's strength of schedule ranks 21st out of the 30 teams, while the Heat's ranks second.
On the flip side, Denver has played the fewest homes games (eight) and the most road games (18).
A favorable schedule no doubt has played a part in the Thunder's 20-4 record and current 11-game winning streak. All schedules equal out in the end, with 41 games home and away for all teams.
The ebb changes for OKC with back-to-back games at Atlanta and Minnesota on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a game at Miami on Christmas Day.
The Thunder's next home game is Dec. 27 against Dallas. The Mavericks loosely have put the return of Dirk Nowitzki (knee surgery) around New Year's Day.
The Thunder plays 15 of its next 22 on the road. When OKC begins its February schedule, it will be back to all-square having played 23 homes games and 23 road games.
The Thunder owns the league's longest winning streak this season, but the Los Angeles Clippers are positioned to go even longer.
After losing four straight, the 18-6 Clippers are riding a 10-game winning streak and up next are home games against 5-18 New Orleans and 7-17 Sacramento, followed by a game at 10-15 Phoenix.
The Clippers' last loss was Nov. 26 — against the Hornets at Staples Center, believe it or not.
The Clippers have the NBA's top Relative Percent Index (RPI), which is a formula that calculates a team's success based on strength of schedule. San Antonio (.578) is second, while Miami and OKC (.567) are tied for third.
In terms of overall power rating — which is RPI, overall winning percentage and strength of schedule combined — the Thunder ranks No. 1, followed by the Clippers, New York, San Antonio and Miami.
Serge Ibaka is tied atop the league in blocked shots (3.0). Kevin Durant's free-throw percentage has reached .900 (seventh in the league). Kevin Martin is second (.933).
Thunder All-Stars Durant and Russell Westbrook are nominated in the “Dynamic Duo” category for Cartoon Network's third annual Hall of Game sports awards show, which returns in February.
Voting is open at http://HallofGame.com.
The Thunder's last loss was at Boston the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 23). … OKC is 7-0 in December and 3-1 on Wednesdays entering its contest at Atlanta (14-7), which played at Washington on Tuesday night. … The Thunder is 11-2 against Western Conference teams and 9-2 against the Eastern Conference. … Rookie forward Perry Jones III continues to rehab a sprained left ankle. … After Atlanta, the Thunder's next three games will be nationally televised — Minnesota (TNT), Miami (ABC) and Dallas (TNT). … OKC is 4-4 (.500) all-time against Atlanta and 13-2 (.867) against Minnesota, its best record against any opponent. … During its 11-game winning streak, the Thunder has beaten opponents by an average of 14.4 points per contest.