It’s time for three days of fun and games. Three days to celebrate the NBA, kick back and relax and just soak up the awesomeness of NBA All-Star Weekend. It’s time to let your guard down, lose a little focus and just have fun. Players and fans both.
And for Thunder fans, this break is extra fun. I don’t think this could have gone any better. I know I’ve said that like five times, but seriously. Nobody thought at the All-Star break that this team would be nine games over, have 30 wins (half on the road) and be sitting sixth in the West. Nearly every prediction we saw had OKC winning 35 games. And the Thunder can eclipse that in a little over a week. Plus, riding a wave of momentum into the break is excellent. Nothing quite like piling up six straight wins to carry over into the stretch run of the season.
But, this also concerns me. There are still five days until OKC’s next game. Five days to hear about how great they are. Five days to feel proud of their first half accomplishment. Five days to maybe lose a little of that hunger that has fueled them through the first 51.
In Dallas, Kevin Durant will hear all about how wonderful he is. Russell Westbrook will get patted on the back for steering this team well. James Harden will hear about how great he was against Portland. And the rest of the team, wherever they go, will take some days off to recharge their batteries. And with that time off, I worry about the ultimate poison for a winning team seeping in. That nasty s-word. I worry this young group might become a little satisfied.
It wouldn’t be difficult. Heck, I’m satisfied as a fan. This group has already won seven more games than last season and there are 31 games left to go. My official prediction for the year was 34 wins and that will probably get taken down within the month. Durant is an MVP candidate, Westbrook had a case to be an All-Star, Jeff Green is playing well and Sam Presti’s slick moves are paying off with guys like Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor and Serge Ibaka. It’s pretty easy to sit back in your chair, fold your arms and nod approvingly at this first half.
But fret not, because that’s just not going to happen. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but there is just a focus to this group that you don’t see in most 20-year-olds. They feel like they have something to prove every night. They’re on a mission. To heck with the naysayers, they’re going to the playoffs. That’s the mentality every night and it’s what’s driving them. The killer instinct they showed at the Rose Garden, in a massive game pretty much made my hair stand on end.
And what keys it? Kevin Durant. When your leader is as zeroed in about basketball as him, you don’t have to worry about that rest. Everyone walks in line behind him and everyone follows his call. There’s no doubt that he’s already salivating over next Tuesday’s home game against Dallas. He’ll be ready and he’ll absolutely have his mates ready. And that’s relieving.
Also, look at it this way: OKC has 31 games remaining. 16 of those are at home. Nine of the teams OKC plays have losing records (12 games). But there are a 19 games against teams with winning records and 16 games against teams that are in the playoffs or the playoff hunt with the Thunder. So the motivation should absolutely be there for the team. If the team falters, I doubt it’ll come at the hands of complacency. They’ve worked too hard to get to this point to let down their guard.
Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself so that I can fully enjoy this weekend.