LOS ANGELES — After another big lead vanished, after another role player erupted for a career night and after another 48 minutes of futility on defense, the Thunder’s problems became clear Sunday afternoon.
Brace yourself. It isn’t pleasant.
But what’s really ailing Oklahoma City is no longer a secret after it was exposed in a nationally televised 114-110 embarrassment to the Lakers, the worst team in the Western Conference.
A tight-knit team that for much of the season has maintained a laser-like focus on winning a championship has disbanded since the All-Star break into a bunch of dudes with different agendas.
Kevin Durant is gunning for his first Most Valuable Player award. Reggie Jackson is playing for a lucrative contract extension this summer. Russell Westbrook is working to regain his rhythm.
No longer is this team playing for each other. That much is evident in any of this team’s abundance of defensive breakdowns. Players that once were on a string defensively now look bewildered when opponents blow by them. More than ever, Thunder players are chirping at teammates who were supposed to have their backs but are currently nowhere in sight.
Jodie Meeks stepped in as the latest player to torch the Thunder’s porous defense, scoring a career-high 42 points on 11-for-18 shooting Sunday. He made six of 11 3-pointers, and all 14 of his free throws while no one from the Thunder accepted the challenge of putting out that fire.
“That’s the second game in a row somebody got 40 on us that’s not supposed to score 40,” said Durant.
Three nights earlier, in a 128-122 road loss at Phoenix, the Thunder watched Gerald Green pump in a career-high 41 points.
“It comes down to just taking pride in guarding your man,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
It certainly doesn’t help that the Thunder is shorthanded. The two guys OKC is missing, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, happen to anchor the team’s defense while accepting the responsibility of doing the dirty work. Without them, what’s left is a team filled with score-first mind frames and a side of youth that’s not quite ready to contribute consistently. Guys such as Steven Adams and Perry Jones II are being relied upon in their respective first and second seasons to supply the same savvy as Sefolosha and Perkins.
But chalking up this team’s woes solely to injuries would be misguided. Too much talent remains in the cupboard for the Thunder to have lost five of eight since the break while allowing a staggering 110.2 points on average and 47.4 percent shooting over that span.