This can't be what Thunder coach Scott Brooks had in mind when he threw out a 10-game challenge to his team leading up to the All-Star break.
Brooks wanted to use the final 10 games before the break to build momentum. But all the Thunder has done in the past three games is taken steps backward.
With a win tonight against Sacramento, the Thunder would finish 7-3 in the 10 games before All-Star Weekend. But much like the rest of the year, what stands out is not the Thunder's respectable record in this stretch. It's the erratic manner in which the mark was made.
Unless the Thunder emphatically disposes of the Kings tonight, it will have limped into the break, momentum mitigated.
“We feel like we've dropped some games we shouldn't have dropped,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “We're doing OK. If we would have closed out some games better, we would really be on a nice streak.”
It was Jan. 26, before a visit to Minnesota, when Brooks issued his challenge. Since then, the Thunder has lost only to Miami, Memphis and Golden State. All three defeats were by six points or less and came down to the final seconds.
But three of the wins left more to be desired.
The Thunder won by just one point against the Wolves, needing overtime to do so, and allowed a Washington team that was then winless on the road to push it to two overtimes before clinching a seven-point victory. Against the Kings on Saturday, the Thunder nearly squandered a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead.
In other wins during the stretch, the first-half defense stood out as a sizable concern.
“It'll be important for us to come out against Sacramento and play well and try to get a win before the break,” Collison said.
Emphasis on play well and try to get a win.
Despite the recent erratic showings, however, the Thunder has stuck together. Even after losing two of the past three — in large part because of poor rebounding, numerous turnovers, sloppy late-game execution and uncharacteristically subpar foul shooting — players aren't pointing the finger at each other.
Following the loss at Golden State, Russell Westbrook took the blame for the team's turnover issues, a combined 43 in the last two losses.
“I've got to figure out how to take care of the ball and make smart decisions for my teammates and not put them in bad situations,” Westbrook said.
Collison shouldered the blame for bad pick-and-roll defense. And Kevin Durant stood up for both Collison and Westbrook.
“We all take responsibility,” Durant said. “We're not satisfied at all. We could have easily been 9-0. We just got to figure out a way to win these games and end them right.”