If this playoff run feels familiar, it’s because many of you might remember traveling down this road before.
Flashback to the 2005-06 NBA season. In their first of two seasons in Oklahoma City, the New Orleans Hornets made a nearly identical run toward the postseason. The Hornets were coming off 18 wins and again were expected to be a league doormat. Instead, they made an improbable push much like the Thunder has done this season after last year’s 23-win campaign.
Thunder fans, however, can only hope the rest of the story doesn’t play out in similar fashion. The Hornets ultimately stumbled in the stretch run and missed the playoffs. It’s a challenge every team is confronted with but one that young clubs rarely conquer.
That’s the test the Thunder now faces.
Oklahoma City enters Tuesday’s game at Portland riding a five-game winning streak and sporting a 29-21 record. Before Sunday’s games, the Thunder sat in seventh place in the Western Conference and just two games out of the fourth seed.
But historically, it’s been what teams have done after the All-Star break that determines the success of their seasons. The final 32 games for the Thunder after Tuesday’s pre-All-Star date with the Blazers shouldn’t be any different. The question is whether the Thunder, the second-youngest team in the league, is ready to play with the big boys? Has Oklahoma City matured, mentally more than anything, enough to maintain its pace and continue to pick off teams that are about to begin playing with more renewed energy and more determined purpose?
The Hornets, and so many like them, couldn’t answer the call.
Despite entering the All-Star break at 29-23 and holding onto the West’s sixth seed back in 2005-06, the Hornets went 9-21 over their final 30 games. They lost six of their last seven and finished 38-44, six games behind eighth-placed Sacramento.
A year later, the Hornets were 25-28 at the break but went 14-15 over the final 29 games to finish three games behind eighth-seeded Golden State. The Warriors went 9-1 over their final 10 games to finish 42-40.