Since the All-Star break, the Thunder are 16-10. Since the impressive run of wins over the Heat, Lakers and Bulls, they’re 4-5. Against the last five plus .500 teams they’ve played, they’re 0-5. Those all sound like things that should make OKC fans a tad uncomfortable.
There are five games left in the Thunder’s regular season and then it’s on to what you play for — the playoffs. But with an ugly loss to the Clippers fresh on the brain, is it time to be worried?
1. Scale of 1-to-10, your panic level is a ______?
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 2.7. I won’t lie, during that second half against the Clippers, I was angry. I did what any fan does and made big statements and proclamations that I really didn’t mean, but made me feel better to say. Things like, “This is worse basketball than the team that was 3-29” or “This team is falling apart.” And then I took a deep breath, surveyed the situation and pumped the brakes. The Thunder are playing out the season the way we’d hope. But this team has proven over the length of this season that they’re an elite squad. It’s just a matter of regaining that focus and positive energy for the postseason.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: 3. The regular season and the playoffs are simply different animals. Going in hot doesn’t mean success is any more likely — if anything, it’s more likely to lead to a too-high sense of confidence for a fan base in particular, and the team as well. Limping to the finish line isn’t exactly a good sign, but the Thunder are just in a lull. Nothing more, nothing less. If OKC regains focus and wins its first round series in five games, no one is going to be thinking about how the last three weeks of the regular season went.
Clark Matthews, The Lost Ogle: About a 5. From a “what have you done for me lately” perspective, things look bleak, but you have to look at the whole season, and this team is good. A team like this doesn’t just forget how to win. Do they? DO THEY?!?!?!? Please tell me they don’t.
2. Fill in the blank: The biggest issue facing the Thunder right now is __________.
Young: Complacency. I just don’t think they are into it. Against good teams there’s a slim margin for error and it almost seems like the Thunder needed to prove to themselves that they were good by beating the Heat, Bulls and Lakers and once that happened, they were good. I think they want to win these games still. But they lack that edge they had when they were trying to prove something. Now that they’ve established that they’re very, very good, it almost seems like they just want to play this thing out and get on with the real games.
James: The Spurs’ winning streak. San Antonio is on a 14-2 run right now. The Spurs have had two 11-game winning streaks since the end of January. If they finish with the West’s No. 1 seed, it would be pretty harsh to blame it on some Thunder “collapse” or say that OKC choked it away. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to a team that is rampaging its way through the last part of the season. Besides, if the Thunder starts a series on the road against the Spurs, that will be a full month after the playoffs start. Plenty of time for the Thunder to get hot, the Spurs to get cold, or either team to lose before then.
Matthews: Motivation. These last few weeks the team has lacked focus. This is only speculation, but I suspect the regular season has lost luster for these guys. They have secured fantastic playoff positioning, have proven they can beat anybody. Seeing the playoffs begin might just be the elixir the Thunder needs to right the ship.
3. True or false: Scott Brooks needs to make an adjustment these last five games.
Young: True. But only in a very minor sense. I think there needs to be a more defined rotation. I don’t understand what Daequan Cook’s role is right now. I don’t understand why Derek Fisher is getting so much run with Russell Westbrook. I don’t understand why Serge Ibaka often gets squeezed out when he’s playing extremely well. These next five games need to be a playoff primer for OKC and Brooks. Something to establish a good rotational flow, a good feeling about roles and responsibilities.
James: False. Why inject a sense of “uh oh” into the locker room right before the playoffs? Whatever Brooks does to respond to the Thunder’s first body blow of the playoffs is way more important. The playoffs will be predictably unpredictable. OKC committed the sin of losing a Game 1 at home last year and won the series, and accomplished an opening road split in the Mavericks series but eventually lost. In any case, an argument could be made that the No. 2 seed is preferable for OKC in the medium term, with a likely second-round series against the Lakers, who somehow seem more beatable right now than the Grizzlies or Clippers. The playoffs will be a wild ride. Hold on to your butts.
Matthews: False. If any adjustment needs to be made, it’s re-centering the team. Three weeks ago they were unstoppable. If they bring that focus and execution to the table the system is proven to work.