DENVER — The Thunder went 27-14 in the first half of this season. If coach Scott Brooks was given another 27-14 record in the second half of the season, would he take it?
“Ooh, that's a good question,” Brooks said with a grin and pausing. “But I'm not going to answer it. That'd be 54-28, but that's 14 losses we could have won.”
The Thunder and Utah are tied atop the Northwest Division at the halfway point and have split their first two regular-season meetings. The Thunder right now holds the No. 3 playoff seed in the Western Conference thanks to a better division record (6-1 vs. 3-4).
The second half begins with a key divisional game against Denver (23-17) inside the Pepsi Center today at 8 p.m.
What awaits the Thunder from here on out is a mix of good and bad, but the final two weeks of the season figure to be brutal.
The Thunder will play eight back-to-backs in the second half. Astoundingly, four of them come in the final 10 games of the season.
This includes a stretch of three straight back-to-backs from March 29-April 6, consisting of Golden State-Phoenix (home-away), Portland-Clippers (both away), Denver-Clippers (away-home), and that's followed four days later by a road back-to-back at the Lakers-Sacramento.
In that same time span, the Jazz plays zero back-to-back games. Utah's final back-to-back of the season is March 23-24 against OKC-New Orleans (away-home).
“Ooh,” Brooks said while perusing the schedule. “Can I go back to that original question again?”
All NBA conference schedules essentially are created equal. Division teams play each other four times; they play the remaining conference teams either three or four times; and everybody has a home-and-home against teams from the opposite conference.
Here is where there could be a two-game advantage for the Thunder against Northwest co-favorite Utah.
The Jazz plays Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers four times each, while the Thunder faces the Lakers and Mavericks only three times each. Utah and OKC play Western Conference leader San Antonio three times.
Is too much being read into all this? Is this paralysis by analysis?
“The schedule's tough for everybody,” Brooks said. “There are a lot of good teams, a lot of tough situations where you play back-to-back, but you have to figure out ways to fight through it and win. We're no different than the other 29 teams.”