Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Wildly inconsistent sans Westbrook

by Berry Tramel Modified: January 8, 2014 at 9:35 am •  Published: January 8, 2014

The Thunder has played 19 games without Russell Westbrook. Nine in the 2013 playoffs. Now 10 in this regular season.

The Thunder is 9-10 in those games: 3-6 in the playoffs, 6-4 in the regular season.

Of those 19 games, nine were at home, 10 on the road.

Of those 19 games, seven came against what you’d call elite teams  —  Memphis five games in the playoffs, Houston and Portland this season.

Of those 19 games, six came against OK teams  —  four in the playoffs against Houston, Minnesota twice this season.

Of those 19 games, six came against weak teams  —  Utah thrice; Charlotte, Brooklyn and Boston once each.

Nineteen games is a small sampling. Especially the nine games last postseason, when the Thunder had to learn on the fly to play without Peter Pan.

But 19 games is virtually a quarter of the regular season. The Thunder was 21-4 with Westbrook; 6-4 without him.

The schedule has not been tough. That will change. The Thunder’s next eight games include four against every elite Western Conference contender except the Clippers. At Houston on Jan. 16, GoldenState on Jan. 17, Portland on Jan. 21 and at San Antonio on Jan. 22.

And while we knew the Thunder would miss Westbrook  —  we learned that in Memphis last May  — we didn’t know the kind of inconsistency his absence would bring.

The Thunder has alternately played great, or played woeful offense, or woeful defense.

The Thunder dominated the Rockets 117-86. Then the Thunder had back-to-back games with massive scoring droughts  — six points in 9:11 of the fourth quarter against Portland, scoreless in 51/2 minutes of the fourth quarter against Brooklyn. Now the Thunder’s defense has massive holes  —  111 points by the Timberwolves; 58 percent shooting by the Jazz.

That’s the mark of an inconsistent team. The Nuggets. The Mavericks. The T-Wolves.

The Thunder did not have such wild swings in play with Westbrook, which is ironic, since he personally delivers some of the wildest swings of play among NBA stars.

But it’s as if the Thunder let Westbrook ride a rollercoaster  —  though his play this season was more and more consistently fantastic  —  and let Kevin Durant play phenomenally and everyone else rowed the boat.

Now, you don’t know what you’re going to get, except mostly greatness from Durant.

The Thunder is 6-4 without Westbrook. That’s still a .600 winning percentage. Still playoff-level success.

It’s just not what the Thunder is accustomed to. But it look like that is what OKC is going to have to live with until Westbrook’s return.

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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