January will go down as the winningest month in Thunder history (so far). Prior to last month, OKC was 4-29. Now it’s 11-37. While the overall record is still crappy, it’s pretty darn good considering. So what happened? What changed? Simply put: the Thunder quit sucking. They worked hard, played better defense and hit the glass hard. They hit free throws, made winning plays and learned how to close.
Consider: October/November record: 2-16. December record: 2-12. January: 7-7. That’s pretty heavy improvement. Kevin Durant averaged 27.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.7 apg and shot almost 50 percent from the field. Russell Westbrook built on his strong December, raising his numbers almost across the board. He averaged 16.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.9 rpg, brought his turnovers down 1.3 per game and shot 44 percent from the field. But the role guys finally did some work. Nick Collison averaged 10.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg, points up three per game and rebounds up two per game from the previous months. A strong core is there and we’re finally starting to see it.
Scoring was up with OKC putting up 102.8 points a game and allowed 103. Consider the fact that in December, the Thunder averaged 96 a game and gave up 103 and in November scored 87 ppg and gave up 103. Rebounds went up seven from November to December (35 to 42) and then three more from December to January.
OKC added a couple new guys. If you see this line, who do you think of: 21 minutes, 3-8, eight points, four rebounds, three fouls. Yep, you’re right. That’s pretty much Nenad Krstic’s line every night. But still, he’s given the team another dimension offensively at least, something Chris Wilcox and Collison don’t. He pretty much does what Joe Smith does, except that Krisy isn’t hurt and Joe is (and Nads is 25 and Joe is 82). And Krstic is adjusting and improving and he’s probably only had about seven or eight practices with his new team. Give him an offseason to get acclimated to his new mates and I think we’ll see a lethal pick and pop big man that’s worth every penny.
At the beginning of January, I laid out five goals the Thunder should shoot for the rest of the year. Let’s revisit:
1.Win six games in a month. Check. Done. Last month, the Thunder won seven. I thought March would be the best month to do it, but January worked out pretty well with big home wins over Detroit and Utah.
2. Win three in a row. The Thunder won two in a row twice, but they were very close to getting a trio. Turn that heartbreaker against the Nuggets into a win and that’s your three. Or close out and win in overtime against New Jersey and there it is. Or not crap the bed in Los Angeles and beat the Clippers and that’s three. In short, it’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a five game streak at some point. Yeah, I said it.
3. Win two of every five at home and one of every five on the road. At home last month, OKC went 5-3. Check, big time. On the road, OKC went 2-4. Check again. Now keep it up for three more months.
4. Shock at least two title contenders. The wins against Utah and Detroit were nice – very nice – but that’s not what I meant. I meant beat San Antonio, the Lakers or New Orleans. Beat somebody like that. And a lot of people laughed at the thought of OKC pulling off an upset against one of those teams. After last month, I think everyone sees that as entirely possible.
5. Most importantly, finish with more than nine wins. Check it baby. The Thunder won No. 9 at Golden State on Jeff Green’s backboard miracle and No. 10 at home against New Jersey. No more trackers, no more jokes and no more gamer leads with “maybe the worst team ever” in it. So my “Win 10!” shirts didn’t really get a chance to take off, but that’s OK.
So to review, the Thunder’s nailed three of the five, is looking like they’ll do one more and have a very good chance to do the last. Now these were my personal goals, so I guess they don’t really mean all that much. But at the time I wrote that, I was trying to make them as realistic as possible, but I still felt like I was stretching. Guess not. We saw the team in January that we expected to see at the beginning of November. It took two months, a new coach and 29 losses in 33 games, but we’re finally seeing the Thunder we thought we’d see.
It’s a good thing OKC took advantage of January to get some wins. Because February will be tough with eight of its 11 opponents being over .500. And March and April are littered with playoff teams as well. January had a lot of beatable teams and the Thunder took care of business. Well, as best they could.
A realistic goal in the remaining 34 would be to win 10 more games. That would be 21 for the season and a 10-24 record against some really good teams. I don’t know if that’s possible, but heck, who thought they’d do what they did last month. Fire up the screen printer again. Win 10 (more)!