As we sit here at the All-Star break, things with the Thunder are pretty okay. It could certainly be a lot worse than second place in the Western Conference, but considering the slump the Thunder have endured after their late January road trip, fans have reason to be a little bit worried.
But the here's the question I'd like to pose. Is this mid-season slump becoming a trend?
In the 2010-2011 campaign, which is where the Thunder really started to hit their stride, they went on a 9-9 slump in the middle of the season, starting on January 17th and ending on February 27th. During this stretch, they had to go to overtime to beat the lowly Timberwolves and Wizards, and were routinely losing to tough opponents. It should be noted that Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and D.J. White were dealt for Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, and Nazr Mohammed during this time, meaning that the roster was shorthanded towards the tail-end of this run.
During the Lockout-shortened season of 2012, the Thunder endured this slump during April. After beating the Bulls at home on April 1st, the Thunder looked poised to seal the Western Conference lead at 39-13. Unfortunately, OKC then stumbled to a 8-6 finish, locking them into the second seed when the playoffs rolled around. During this stretch, they never beat a playoff opponent.
This season, the Thunder looked strong heading into their 5 game West Coast road trip, having just defeated Dallas on the road and leading the West at 32-8. But over the last month, they've again stumbled to a 7-6 record. Over this stretch, they have beaten a couple of playoff teams in the Grizzlies and Clippers, but they've been counterbalanced by bad losses to the Cavaliers and Lakers.
The three examples I've cited above have similarities and differences. They all take place towards the middle of what would be an 82 game season. None of them were total collapses (the biggest streak of losses was three, only occurring once during the 10-11 season). All involved a roughly equal amount of home and away games. Of course, the circumstances are the main point of difference between the slumps. The first involved (mostly) the Krstic-Green era of the Thunder. The second involved the Durant-Westbrook-Harden era of the Thunder. And the third involved the Martin era of the Thunder.
Because of the different circumstances surrounding the runs, it really begs the question. Was this a result of all the personnel change? Or is this a problem specific to the players that have stayed and the coaching style of Scott Brooks?
To help answer this question, I looked for a team that's had sustained success on the level that the Thunder have. In order to qualify, they have to have finished in the top four spots in their conference over the last three years. The only teams that qualify are the Heat and Spurs. Both provide good litmus tests, as they've had a reasonable amount of stability among their core. The Heat are in the East, so their strength of schedule is different, but the Spurs have had to deal with injuries, so they both end up being about equally similar to the Thunder in terms of schedule and quality.
Did both of those teams have bad stretches? Heck yes! The Heat started off their 2010-11 season 9-8 before starting to tear it up. They also went 5-6 down the stretch in March last year, and and went 4-6 from December 28th to January 14th this season. The Spurs endured a 6 game collapse at the end of 2011 before being upset in the first round by the Grizzlies. They went 4-4 after an 11 game win streak in late February and early March of last year, and endured a 1-4 record during mid-December of this season.
What does this tell us? Well, you could take the angle of, "Man, the regular season seems kinda meaningless." That might be true in terms of these slumps. But you can't ignore the fact that the Spurs were upset by the Grizzlies in the first round after a total collapse towards the end of the season. More important is how well the team edures and recovers from the slump. Here, the Thunder have an excellent cut off point of where the slump should stop. They have 7 straight non-back to back games coming up, with only three of them on the road. Only three of them are against playoff teams, and and all of them are against opponents the Thunder have beaten before this season. In other words, if the Thunder get anything less than 5-2 over this upcoming stretch of games, than something is seriously wrong.
What do you make of the recent Thunder slump? Any ideas? Let us know in the poll and comments!