Durant: "We Gotta Figure It Out, We Gotta Buckle Down."
By Randy Renner
It hasn't even been quite a week ago that Thunder fans were joking around about their team's chances to go 82-0 this NBA season. A healthy roster for a change and a 3-0 start for the first time since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City will get people excited.
That sure seems like a long time ago now.
Nothing like a three game losing streak to pop people's balloons.
The reasons things have gone south all of a sudden are varied and even a bit inexplicable. The Thunder have gotten off to at least nine point leads in all three losses but haven't been able to hold on.
In Houston they turned the ball over a near record number of times, then couldn't contain James Harden late in the game.
Against Toronto turnovers were again a big problem but the defense played good enough to win when players weren't fouling the Raptors. Unfortunately that didn't happen often enough as Toronto took 39 free throws making 32 and outscoring the Thunder by 20 at the stripe.
Thursday night in Chicago the turnovers and the fouls were under control but the defense collapsed, especially down the stretch when the Thunder couldn't find an answer for Derrick Rose.
OKC was hampered in fourth quarter by the absence of Steven Adams, who had to leave the game with back problems. That put Enes Kanter, whose defense tends to be offensive to most Thunder fans, in a precarious position.
Rose and Bulls center Pau Gasol played the pick-and-roll to perfection, recognizing Kanter's problems in coverage. More often than not OKC was caught with Russell Westbrook switching onto Gasol from Rose and Kanter going from Gasol to Rose.
Switch or no switch the outcome was probably going to be bad for the Thunder and it was.
Westbrook provided no insight into what the plan was, "I don't even know," is how he answered questions from The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater about the coverage. We assume Westbrook knew, he just didn't want to talk about it.
Head coach Billy Donovan, whose answers to easy or tough questions are generally pretty insightful, did offer up some details.
"That's not really what we were trying to do," Donovan said when asked about the switching. "I think one of the things when Rose is up top (on the pick-and-roll) what we'd like to do is get over the screen. But getting over screens is really, really hard. That's a challenge."
A challenge the Thunder weren't up to against a Bulls team determined to show better than they had in Tuesday's 130-105 blowout loss in Charlotte.
"That game was embarrassing a little bit," Rose said. "We felt like we let each other down."
The Thunder may be feeling a little of that now. It seems like when one problem area gets fixed, another one pops open. Some of that probably goes back to players getting familiar with each other again and getting used to the new systems of the new coaching staff.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 33 points and has pointed the finger of blame at himself here in the early going, is refusing to make any excuses, even ones that probably have merit.
"We gotta figure it out man, we gotta get stops," he said as he sat in his lockerroom chair at the United Center. "We gotta buckle down and get them. No other way around it."
After four games in five nights the Thunder will take today off to catch their breath and then have a full practice Saturday to get ready for the Phoenix Suns who will be in The Peake Sunday evening.
Donovan and his coaches will dissect the films of the last few games and decide what needs to be done to get this team out of its sudden slump.