ORLANDO, Fla. — Kevin Durant sat at his locker following Wednesday's gut-wrenching overtime loss at Memphis and offered a shocking reply to a basic question about how the Thunder can bounce back after two straight losses.
“We'll get a win in Orlando,” Durant said. “Simple.”
That wasn't the shocking part.
“It's a must-win game,” Durant added. “A must-win game.”
This is what it's come to for the Thunder. The defending Western Conference champion must now win against an Eastern Conference bottom feeder Friday night to restore the faith.
No matter how you slice it, it's a sad state of affairs for a team that at this point of the season should be focused solely on sharpening minor aspects before the postseason begins. Instead, the Thunder's expected desperation for a victory in Orlando will adequately depict the funk in which this team finds itself.
Oklahoma City owns an attractive 50-19 record heading into its matchup with Orlando. But that mark belies an ugly truth. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder is just 11-5, with a handful of those victories strangely supplying as much frustration as some of the defeats.
Also masked, but more discouraging, is how the Thunder has built its resume by feasting on bad teams. OKC is just 3-7 against San Antonio, Denver and Memphis, the three teams that join the Thunder with the top four records in the Western Conference. Not to mention the Thunder's 0-2 mark against Miami this season.
The Thunder's performance against the league's best, quite frankly, has done everything but inspire confidence in how the team will fare in the playoffs. Blowing out an Orlando team 33 games below .500 would end the two-game skid and tack on another victory to the Thunder's sparkling record. But in reality it will be little more than yet another hollow result in a season that quietly has been built on them.
Has a potential 60-win season ever felt this empty?
Of course, there's always the James Harden factor. It was Harden's preseason trade to Houston, remember, that shaped this season and, like it or not, made this year's successes or failures a referendum on that daring deal.
In many ways, the Thunder must be applauded for how it has kept on trucking without its former third best player and reigning Sixth Man Award winner. But for a team that fell short in the NBA Finals last season, regular-season results no longer matter, and it's now Harden's absence that has ironically become a chief concern regarding the Thunder's playoff prospects this time around.
Expectations, however, won't allow for excuses.
The question is, what are we to make of this funk?
Last year, we saw a similar slump at the tail end of the season. The Thunder went 11-5 in its first 16 games out of the All-Star break a year ago as well. Additionally, OKC went 8-7 in last year's final 15 games. An 0-2 start in the final 15 this year could set up an identical mark.
Last year's finish obviously was forgotten when the playoffs started. It's possible this year could shake out the same way.
But unlike last season, this year's Thunder squad doesn't have Harden to help right the ship in the postseason.
Thunder at Magic
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Amway Center
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish 441, U-Verse 754/HD 1754)
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640
Three things to know
* This is the second and final meeting between the Thunder and Magic. The Thunder won the first game, 117-104, in Oklahoma City on March 15.
* The Thunder led by as many as 27 points in the first game against the Magic. Orlando stormed back in the second half and cut the deficit to four late in the game.
* Magic center Nikola Vucevic did not play in Orlando's last game because of illness.