This is what it feels like when you're playing for it all.
The losses linger longer. The frustration fizzles slower.
Every setback seems to sting more than ever before.
That's become the Oklahoma City Thunder's reality.
“We're a pretty good team now, and our guys take it hard,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
The best team in the Western Conference has fallen into a slight funk that has fans worried and others wondering if the Thunder is the contender it's been cracked up to be.
In reality, the Thunder has done nothing but hit a common hiccup, a rough patch that is bound to arrive at some point no matter if it's an 82-game season or shortened 66-game version.
Did we mention the anxiety is all because OKC has dropped just four of its past six games — by a combined 18 points?
If everyone else has lost sight of what the Thunder has accomplished this season, and how good OKC can be when it is at its best, the 15 players and six coaches on the team can assure you that they have not.
Those 21 men see the big picture.
“I can't remember a time, even when we were losing, it felt like (gloom and doom) in our building because we know what we have to do,” Brooks said. “There are going to be stretches during every season that you're not going to play at your best. You're going to have a bad break and you're going to lose a couple of games.
“We know how to win games. We just have to execute it. You don't have the record we have and not be a pretty good team that executes down the stretch.”
The Thunder is 15-9 since the All-Star break. Apparently, some see that as a cause for concern. But it's relatively on par with how the best teams in the league have fared over the same span.
Going into Thursday's games, the Heat was 13-9 since the All-Star break and had lost five of its last 10. The Bulls, who still hold the league's best record, were 17-6 since the All-Star break and had lost four of eight going into Thursday's games.
Conclusion: it happens.
“Not to make excuses, but with a young team, we already clinched the playoffs,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “You know, at the end of the day, you're going to be the 1 or 2 seed ending the regular season.”
“But we ought to just keep being motivated,” he said, “and don't get bored with the process.”
Even in three out of four of the recent defeats, the Thunder can point to positives, such as the team's defensive performance that bordered on dominant despite the losses.
In two of those losses (Memphis and Miami), the Thunder held opponents below 40 percent shooting. Indiana, meanwhile, shot just 41.2 percent.
“Our defense was on point,” Perkins said. “I felt like we struggled offensively, which happens…I felt like in each one of them games, we had a chance to win it. We should have won a few of them.”
Perkins was asked if he still felt good about his team, if the Thunder still was in a good place.
“I mean, why wouldn't I be feeling good?” Perkins asked, flipping the question back onto a reporter. “We're still No. 1 in the West. We're still one of the top two teams in the league. I feel like we worked hard to get where we at. If we have these losses early in the season or in the middle of the season, we probably wouldn't say nothing about it. But just the timing of it right now is just what it is.”
Lost in the last few losses is the eight-game opportunity the Thunder still has to go into the postseason with a head of steam. This rough stretch will become a distant memory if OKC closes the season with six or seven solid wins in the final eight.
“There's still time,” Brooks said. “I know we had a tough stretch. But it was very good teams we were playing. And I think it made us better. I think when you play against good teams and you have close games, sure, you'd love to win them all. But that's unrealistic. You have to give yourself a chance to win them all and I think we've done a pretty good job with that.”
That's all Brooks can ask for.
If he gets it, everyone can live with the sting of a bad stretch — because there is reason to believe the pain will only be short-term.
“That's part of it. It's a tough league,” Brooks said. “It's a tough schedule for everybody, not just us. We're focused on improving day-to-day, game-to-game and not worried about what our record was the last six games.”