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Berry Tramel  


Oklahoma City Thunder: Time to break out of a slump

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 26, 2014 at 10:40 am •  Published: February 26, 2014
Thunder slumps aren't really that bad when you look closely. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Thunder slumps aren't really that bad when you look closely. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The Thunder is in a slump. A Thunder slump. Not a regular slump.

A regular slump is when a good team hits rocky ground. Losing four of five. Losing seven of 11. Ten of 15.

A Thunder slump is 3-3 or 3-4. Something like that.

In fact, over the last three years, the Thunder’s worst stretch of basketball has been a 2-4 record from April 2-11, 2012.

The Thunder’s current slump is 5-4. Since Feb. 1, OKC has won just five of nine games, including two straight since the all-star break. The Thunder slumps can be defined as much by how it performs on the court as how it finishes on the scoreboard. For instance, this is a serious slump, by Thunder standards, because OKC hasn’t played well even in victory.

Even before the all-star break, the Thunder was not playing well. The Thunder beat the Lakers in LA on Feb. 13 but played the worst game in OKC threads since the P.J. Carlesimo days. Before that, the Thunder played solid and won in Portland and played decent and beat the Knickerbockers at Chesapeake. But the game before that, the Thunder inexcusably lost at Orlando, and the two games before that, the Thunder struggled to win games against depleted Minnesota and Memphis, and the game before that, the Thunder lost at Washington.

So the Thunder is going on a stretch of playing poorly, even in victory.

But we’ve seen it before. The Thunder has been a streaky team since reaching elite status about three years ago. Streaky good. Most of their Thunder slumps have been followed by stretches of outstanding play:

March 3-20, 2012: 5-5. The slump started with Thabo Sefolosha sidelined by injury. Thabo missed 24 games, during which OKC went 16-8. In Sefolosha’s final six absences, the Thunder went 3-3. And the malaise continued upon Thabo’s return, leading to a 5-5 record over 10 games. But then the Thunder went on a six-game winning streak.

April 2-11, 2012: 2-4. The Thunder lost three straight games — to Memphis, then at Miami and at Indiana — before beating Toronto and Milwaukee. Then the Thunder lost to the Clippers. The Thunder then won two straight games, over Sacramento and Minnesota.

April 16-25, 2012: 3-3. The Thunder finished the regular season with a .500 stretch over six games. And really, you could lump the entire month of April together. The Thunder went 7-7 over the final 14 regular-season games. The goal of most teams is to be playing well heading into the postseason. The Thunder clearly was not, going into the 2012 playoffs. But the Thunder won its first six playoff games and dispatched the Mavericks and Lakers by a combined 8-1. Then the Thunder beat the Spurs to win the Western Conference.

Dec. 20, 2012-Jan. 7, 2013: 5-4. Over a nine-game stretch, the Thunder lost at Minnesota, at Miami, at home to Brooklyn and at Washington. Then the Thunder won six straight.

Jan. 20-Feb. 2, 2013: 3-4. With six road games in seven games, the Thunder faced a difficult stretch. And indeed struggled, winning just thrice and losing every other game. Then the Thunder won four straight.

Feb. 12-March 1, 2013: 3-4 After the four-game winning streak, the Thunder slumped again, losing three straight, at Utah, home against Miami, at Houston. After a three-game winning streak, the Thunder lost again. So from Jan. 20 through 1, the Thunder went 10-8. Which is not up to Thunder standards. But after March 1, the Thunder won five straight and eight of nine.

March 19-29, 2013: 3-3. The Thunder had one more minor slump left, with a home loss at Denver followed by an overtime loss at Memphis. After a three-game winning streak, another loss ensued. But then the Thunder won seven of eight to go into the playoffs on a high note.

Dec. 31, 2013-Jan. 14, 2014: 3-5.  After starting strong with two wins after Russell Westbrook’s injury, the Thunder stumbled. Back-to-back home losses to Portland and Brooklyn. The next week, back-to-back road losses at Denver and Utah. Eventually, a loss at Memphis. But the Thunder found a great slump-buster — that remarkable comeback win at Houston, after giving up 72 first-half points to the Rockets. That ignited a 10-game winning streak.

So there’s one secret to success. Don’t let the slumps linger. And send them scurrying with dominant play. The Thunder has mostly done that the last three years.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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