LOS ANGELES — It took a 29-point drubbing at Denver to expose a deep, dark secret simmering in Oklahoma City, a disturbing detail that puts a damper on the delirium Thunder fans have enjoyed all season.
What was revealed in Wednesday’s loss, the worst of the season, was the latest bit of evidence that illustrated just where the Thunder ranks in the NBA hierarchy. For all its quantum leaps, the Thunder still struggles to beat playoff teams. For now, it’s only a troubling trend. Come mid-April, it could be a fact that flourishes into a quick first-round exit. Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 41 points against a Nuggets team it would meet in the opening round if the playoffs started today. Throughout the season, the Thunder has fared only slightly better against the rest of the conference’s postseason contenders. But that reality has become lost in the Thunder’s 36-24 record entering tonight’s road game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder is just 7-11 against current West playoff teams. And even that mark is misleading when you factor in the breaks the Thunder has caught in four of those wins. Oklahoma City secured a three-point win at San Antonio in mid-November with Manu Ginobili sitting out the entire fourth quarter. The Thunder pummeled the Nuggets in late January while Carmelo Anthony looked on from the bench in street clothes with a bum ankle. And in February, OKC pounced on a Portland team playing without Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, then defeated a revamped Dallas squad playing its first game with Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. The Mavs have not lost since. That leaves the Thunder with three wins against Western Conference playoff teams playing at full strength — a home and away win against Utah and a road win at Phoenix. The Thunder has built its season on beating bad teams, assembling a 21-2 record against teams below .500.