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.