For all that Thunder players have experienced already in their short time in the NBA, a long and grueling road trip really has not been one of them.
Until this past week.
The Thunder returned home Sunday after a 105-96 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a disappointing defeat that dropped Oklahoma City to 3-3 on its six-game trip.
It was the longest road trip in the Thunder's brief history, an 11-day odyssey that covered more than 3,500 miles and, quite frankly, was mired in mediocrity.
No one in the Thunder's traveling party wanted to publicly concede that the journey played a role in the subpar performances. And maybe it didn't. But because Oklahoma City is centrally located, and no event annually takes over Chesapeake Energy Arena for a long stretch during the season, the Thunder hasn't had to adjust to being away from home for as long as it was last week.
Last year's lockout-shortened season scheduled the Thunder for two five-game trips. OKC went 3-2 on both. In each of the first three seasons of the franchise's existence, the longest road trips were just four games.
That's a stark contrast to teams like San Antonio, Chicago, the Clippers and Lakers, all of whom annually must vacate their home buildings for seven, eight or even nine games to make way for the rodeo, circus or Grammys.
“It was a long road trip, but everybody has the same amount of road games. It's not like we're the only team that had a long road trip,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, starting a no-excuse mentality from the top. “It's over.”
The Thunder's inconsistency on the road was alarming. Each win was followed with a loss. About the only constant was dreadful defense.
Oklahoma City allowed 106 points and 46.6 percent shooting in those six games. Sure, the first two went into overtime. But even if you take away the points Dallas and Denver scored in the extra periods, the Thunder allowed 102.5 points per game — which would rank fifth worst in the league.
“We just got to do a better job of having our hand up and contesting shots,” said Kevin Durant. “We just got to do a better job. I think we were making a good first effort. We got to have a better second effort.”
The trip culminated with the Thunder allowing the Lakers to shoot an opponent-high 55.4 percent from the field. Six Lakers players scored in double figures, as Kobe Bryant, in the words of Brooks, “picked us apart” with 14 assists.
The Thunder's defense went from yielding 95.9 points on average before the trip to 97.3, falling to 16th in the league.
Oklahoma City now has three days off to formulate a strategy to right the ship.
The good news is the Thunder is back home.
The bad news is the first game following a road trip generally is considered the toughest — and a rested and always tough Memphis Grizzlies team, which already knocked off the Thunder at home, looms.