Jodie Meeks, Gerald Green, Tyreke Evans, Cantankerous Caldwell-Pope.
OK, so Caldwell-Pope’s name is Kentavious. But he’s the latest in a series of mostly unknown players who have put Thunderville in a bad mood as the 2014 NBA playoffs begin Saturday.
Meeks (42 points), Green (41), Evans (41) and Caldwell-Pope (30) all have notched career highs at Thunder expense in the last few weeks, as a once-fierce Thunder defense has been torched.
Teams that play lax defense don’t last long in the NBA postseason.
So as the Thunder awaits the arrival of the Memphis Grizzlies for what promises to be a bear fight of a first-round series, one question trumps all others.
Can the Thunder flip the switch?
Can the Thunder shake off the doldrums of a regular season that has grown long and irrelevant to a team that knows it has championship pedigree?
Kendrick Perkins said he didn’t know.
Scotty Brooks avoided the question.
Kevin Durant said yes.
The Thunder beat Detroit 112-111 Wednesday night to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and avoid a three-game losing streak headed into the playoffs.
“If we would have just dominated these last three games going into the playoffs, we couldn’t hang our hats on that and ‘we’re just going to play like this the rest of the playoffs,’” Durant said. “It’s a new season. Can’t dwell on the regular season.”
Solid enough reasoning. And history suggests that the dog days afflict many a quality NBA franchise. This very spring, Eastern Conference favorites Miami and Indiana have staggered to the finish line of the regular season.
The Thunder finished strong in 2013 and 2011 (10-3 both seasons) but went just 7-7 in its last 14 games of 2012. Yet that’s the season OKC reached the NBA Finals.
The Spurs last season finished 3-7 in their last 10 games, then won the West and came within a long rebound of winning the NBA title. The 2010 Lakers went 4-7 in their final 11 games yet won their second straight league championship.
“When the playoffs start, that's when we'll see,” Perkins said. “I feel like everybody starts 0-0 and get a clean slate and you go from there. All it takes is two games in the playoffs to show character. You could go down 0-2 and then bounce back and win four in a row.
“You never know how guys are going to come out during the playoffs. You could prepare. You could play well going into the playoffs and you just never know. It's all about making shots, matchups, who's going to play defense and who want it the most.”
So you never know. But the Thunder’s 4-4 record the last two weeks isn’t so alarming as how the Thunder has been playing.
Since the all-star break, the Thunder’s defensive lapses have been many: 111 points allowed to Detroit, 101 to hapless New Orleans, 102 to fangless Indiana, 122 and 128 to Phoenix, 109 and 111 in regulation to Dallas, 114 to the woebegone Lakers, 125 points allowed to the Clippers.
Not even the return of defensive specialists Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins has restored defensive consistency to the Thunder.
That has to change starting Saturday. You can’t let 25-year-old Memphis rookie Nick Calathes, he of the 4.9 points per game scoring average, go off for a career high 23.
OKC is 20-4 with its five-man starting lineup intact. The Thunder remains an elite team. Probably the West’s best team. Maybe the league’s best.
But the Thunder hasn’t been playing like it. Time to flip the switch.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.