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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Time to just hold the fort

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 17, 2014 at 4:50 pm •  Published: March 17, 2014

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9), Derek Fisher (6), Caron Butler (2) and Kevin Durant (35) walk to the bench area for a third-quarter timeout called by coach Scott Brooks, middle, during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Dallas won, 109-86. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9), Derek Fisher (6), Caron Butler (2) and Kevin Durant (35) walk to the bench area for a third-quarter timeout called by coach Scott Brooks, middle, during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Dallas won, 109-86. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

It’s time to come to grips with reality. The Thunder’s problem is not reversible with some kind of iron will. The Thunder’s problem is not fixable with a do-better talk.

The Mavericks blasted the Thunder 109-86 Sunday night, another defensive collapse for a team that prides itself on defense.

At mid-season, the Thunder was third in the NBA in team defense, using defensive efficiency, which is the best stat. How often does a team get a stop. That’s what it’s all about. Stopping the other team.

Now the Thunder is down to fifth and falling fast. The meltdowns against the Clippers, Cleveland, the Lakers. They are coming fast. Too fast to fix, really.

The only fix is the return of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder’s defense has disintegrated since the injuries to those defensive cornerstones. And the decision to sit out Russell Westbrook from certain games, to help soften his return from knee surgery, won’t help. Westbrook can be a solid defender, though sometimes risk-prone, but Reggie Jackson’s defense is so leaky, Westbrook by comparison is Rajon Rondo.

Thabo and Perk won’t return until April, so clearly, only one mission is available for the Thunder. Hold the fort. Try to play .500 ball. Try not to fall too far in the Western Conference standings, until the return of reinforcements. Try to keep it patched together so that the rehabilitation of chemistry and defensive mindset isn’t too long-lasting.

As of now, the Thunder seems much more likely to fall to third in the West than to surpass the Spurs for first. The Thunder is four games up on fourth-place Houston, so that might be safe. But the Clippers are only a game behind OKC, which trails San Antonio by two games.

The difference between second and third is not great, other than a potential Game 7 on the road in the West semifinals. But heck, I think both the Thunder and the Clips would rather play likely-sixth place Golden State than likely-seventh place Memphis in the first round.

So really, the big issue for the Thunder is getting back into a rhythm of quality basketball. That’s not going to happen until Sefolosha and Perkins return. Without them, the Thunder has gone to pieces defensively. A couple of decent outings, particularly against Houston, but otherwise, this Thunder team has looked nothing like its self of the last 2-3 years.

How long will it take for the defense to return when Sefolosha and Perkins are back? Good question. Does defensive rhythm return more quickly than offensive rhythm. We’ve seen offensive rhythm take a hit when someone like Westbrook goes out of the lineup, and also when he returns. April will be a fascinating month for the Thunder. Get your guys back, get them in shape, get them in rhythm and get them to get their teammates to start playing defense again.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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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