In the same spirit as last year’s look at five things I wanted to see, on-and-off-the-court, from the Thunder last season, let’s look at five things that would be nice to see from the standpoint of the Thunder fan experience and also “for basketball reasons.”
Of last year’s five things, a buzzer beater, ended up being a rather memorable part of the 2010-11 season. Some other wishes remain, first and foremost a wish to see the Thunder wear black socks and shoes with the home whites sometimes, are still out there. And I’ll definitely still take more variety on commercials for local games.
But 2011-12 is a new season with new challenges and frontiers. Here’s five more for this year:
1. A convincing home win over a contender.
The Thunder’s biggest wins down the stretch last season, notably against Miami and the Lakers, came on the road. And that’s great. But Oklahoma City still tended to come up short against some of the NBA’s powerhouse teams at home last year in the regular season. The Thunder’s two early afternoon ABC games were hard-fought home losses to the Heat and Lakers. Boston blew OKC’s (pre-trade) doors off. Dallas swept the Thunder at home. The eventual No. 2 seed Spurs won in OKC. It wasn’t all bad — the Thunder did beat Chicago at home and pick up good home playoff wins until Dallas came to town — but there was no resonating, defining regular-season home game where the Thunder played the role of the contender defending its home turf against the NBA’s elite.
Winning a fair share of those games can be the difference between getting one of the top two seeds in the West. Those are some mature teams with star players and star coaches. But now the Thunder is getting to the point where it should start showing that same maturity and become the kind of consistent machine that a top seed-type team has to display. That starts with winning big games at home. And that might come down to…
2. Better half-court offense.
This has to be the No. 1 on-court wish for the team, especially if you want to give any weight at all to pure aesthetics. The only other contender for the top basketball wish is four quarters of the kind of defense the Thunder has shown it can play. But just getting better shots, sharing the ball and playing a more flowing and imaginative offense.
The Thunder has players with blinding individual offensive talent, but Oklahoma City still labors to get easy shots for long stretches. But it’s more than pressure on Russell Westbrook to know when and when not to hit the gas, and on Kevin Durant to move better without the ball. It’s flexible rotations to exploit matchups and play hot hands, smarter use of limited offensive players and more hard work everyone has been willing to do so far between games.
If the Thunder’s five fingers can be a fist every night, a title is already within reach. Oklahoma City’s best is already good enough to beat anyone, but being able to bring that best on almost every offensive possession in the half court is the kind of thing that helps keep big fourth quarter leads in the conference finals.
3. Charles Barkley in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder is on TNT six times in the regular season and ought to be more in the playoffs. He should stop by.
4. The return of the lady who almost drowned at halftime.
As far as I know, this halftime act has not returned since the woman almost drowned and stopped some hearts in a big Thunder crowd downtown. That was during the first season the team was in Oklahoma City.
I know I’ll never forget it. It was one of those moments where you actually do think, “Wait, is this part of the show?” And then you realize that it isn’t. The lights came on, the magician went stiff and we thought we were watching someone drown right in front of us. And then of course the awkward slow clap and “woooooo” arises from the crowd when she’s rescued and survives.
Isn’t it time they made a triumphant return to Oklahoma City and tried their halftime act again? She’s still at it. It’s time she came back. It will be a healing thing for her and for all of the people scarred by seeing it the first time.
5. Pregame video variety
The Thunder’s video production crew does a standup job creating the video played right before the starting lineup is introduced at home games. But there are only a few of those made over the course of the whole season.
Oklahoma City is doing great from a season ticket standpoint. There’s a waiting list for them, and single game tickets are selling quickly. But teams are still having to do more than ever to show why the investment in season tickets, or in mini-packs and multiple single game tickets, is worth watching on a big screen in the comfort of home. One of the things they could do better is trotting out more pregame videos.
The starting lineups are always cool, but it’s an added incentive to get to your seat early if you know there could be something different that you won’t want to miss. That extra intrigue and excitement could make a great pregame atmosphere even better.