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The Thunder is winning, but is the team getting better?

NBA — Oklahoma City is 10-2, but are the Thunder improving or is it just young legs and having retained the top players from last year's roster?
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: January 12, 2012

In sport, you are what your record says you are, and the Thunder is 10-2 right now.

That equates to a 55-11 record in a 66-game season with a winning percentage of .833, which would rank fifth on the NBA's all-time list.

A 55-27 record was quite an achievement last season for OKC. Imagine reaching the same victory total in 16 fewer games.

OK, everyone. Calm down. We're just crunching some early numbers here. Don't go planning a downtown parade for late June just yet.

Thunder players and coaches seem pleased to this point, and should be considering they had 12 games in the first 18 days. Early success doesn't guarantee continued success, however.

The 149-day lockout cut training camps in half, which cut preparation in half and made the evaluation process of newcomers almost nonexistent for some. What is normally early October on the NBA calendar suddenly became early December.

Q: “Hey, coach. How do you like your new player?”

A: “Haven't seen him play yet. Ask me in March.”

The Thunder is 5-1 both home and away. Six victories have been against teams in last year's playoffs.

OKC also is enduring a gut-wrenching, season-ending knee injury to Eric Maynor, one of the league's best backup point guards.

Is OKC achieving its goal of “getting better every day,” as everyone in Thunderwear incessantly preaches after every game and practice?

Are these early returns simply because of young legs and having retained the top 10-12 players from last year's roster?

How much of this good fortune is actually fortunate timing, playing teams while they're not at full strength? (See list.)

Heck, the Thunder has such good mojo right now it doesn't even have to play today (Friday the 13th).

Does the team's record match the results? OKC is winning, but is the Thunder getting better?

“I think we're getting better,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It's easy to look that we have a good record, but I see improvements. We've done some good things down the stretch of games, winning close ball games. We've executed when we've needed to. Our defense has been solid pretty much throughout the 48-minute game where last year it was only stretches of good defense.

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MISSING IN ACTION

The following players were missing when their teams faced the Thunder this season:

W-Orlando (12/25): None

W-Minnesota (12/26): Brad Miller (knee); Martell Webster (back)

W-Memphis (12/28): Mike Conley (sprained ankle 24 seconds into game); Darrell Arthur (Achilles tendon); Xavier Henry (ankle)

W-Dallas (12/29): None

W-Phoenix (12/31): Michael Redd (conditioning)

L-Dallas (1/2): None

L-Portland (1/3): Greg Oden (knee)

W-Houston (1/6): Kyle Lowry (foot); Courtney Lee (calf)

W-Houston (1/7): Kyle Lowry (foot); Courtney Lee (calf)

W-San Antonio (1/8): Manu Ginobili (broken left hand)

W-Memphis (1/10): Zach Randolph (knee); Darrell Arthur (Achilles tendon); Hamed Haddadi (personal)

W-New Orleans (1/11): Eric Gordon (bruised knee); Trevor Ariza (groin strain); Jason Smith (grandmother's funeral); Xavier Henry (ankle)

New York (1/14): Baron Davis (back)

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