By Randy Renner
By most standards the Thunder’s 40-16 record is outstanding and even more impressive when you consider a new coaching staff is in place and the Thunder had to start the season re-acquainting the starting lineup with each other after all last season’s injuries.
If Golden State and San Antonio weren’t enjoying historically great seasons, the Thunder’s record would look even better on the surface because all three teams would be bunched up together in the standings.
But when you look at how the Thunder have gotten to 40-16 that’s when the warts start showing up.
The schedule for the first two-thirds of the season was a lot easier than the last third is going to be and against good teams the Thunder have struggled. OKC is 27-3 versus teams currently out of playoff position and just 13-13 against teams currently in playoff spots.
The Thunder have lost their first two games coming out of the All-Star break, both games against teams currently in the playoffs.
Against Indiana the Thunder appeared to have things under control and then collapsed in the last two-and-a-half minutes when their offense stalled and their defense gave up four straight 3-pointers.
Against Cleveland on Sunday, the breakdowns were more complete. Defensive lapses led to slow closeouts and switches. The Thunder fouled the Cavs away from the ball and many times out away from the basket then failed again to protect the 3-point arc.
“You’re going to have times when you’re put in some binds,” head coach Billy Donovan acknowledged after Monday’s practice. “I thought the bigger issue was stuff, that in my opinion, we have control over.”
Things like blocking out, getting back in transition, silly fouls away from the ball.
“If you don’t do the things necessary teams can beat you handily,” Donovan said. “I thought there were things in (the Cavs game) that we did not do well enough to give ourselves a chance.”
Self-inflicted wounds, unforced errors. None of this is new. Donovan has been talking about these types of issues since the first day of training camp and he’s still talking about them during post game film sessions 56 games into the regular season.
“It’s not a matter of trying to call somebody out as much as it is to bring to attention and bring to light that we gotta get better in this area. This is kind of becoming a little bit of a challenge for us and we need to get it corrected.”
In the lockerroom after the blowout loss to Cleveland on Sunday, superstar Kevin Durant came close to calling everyone out.
“Gotta dig down deep,” he said then. “Xs and Os, schemes and shootarounds and practices, that shit’s out the window. You gotta dig down deep and decide what you wanna do. Everybody.”
Donovan seems willing to do whatever he can to find some answers.
“Whether it’s changing message or showing them different things and working on them in practice when we can, I’ve just gotta keep finding and searching for ways to help them be able to grow and develop in areas that maybe we’ve been inconsistent in. And it’s all of us together, coaches and players.”
The worrisome thing about these problems that keep coming up like weeds in early spring is that they involve basic fundamentals. There’s nothing new and exotic about blocking out on rebounds, getting back on defense and avoiding silly fouls off the ball and away from the basket.
The Thunder had a light practice yesterday but will go hard today before flying to Dallas for their game tomorrow night against the Mavericks, another team currently in playoff position.