The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Sacramento Kings on the road, 116-101. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder looked as weary as they did in their first back-to-back in their underwhelming loss to the Pistons. Once again, OKC fell behind early by double digits, used several runs to make the game competitive, but by the time the end of the 3rd quarter came around, looked as if all of their energy and focus was gone.
Once again, OKC struggled against a team that did not have a winning record, as the Kings came into the game with a record of 4-9. But it was the Kings that were the aggressors throughout and never looked seriously in trouble, even as OKC made their mini-runs. The Thunder had no answer for DeMarcus Cousins, who came into the game averaging 27 PPG and made quick work of the OKC front line, scoring 36 on 14-28 shooting, including 13 rebounds. The Thunder were once again led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 31-11-9-3 against only 3 turnovers. However, he got little help when the game was competitive, and once again OKC had to stare at a double digit deficit in the 4th quarter, a Groundhog Day event that pines for release.
We can caveat this game all we want — 2nd night of a back-to-back, still missing Cameron Payne, young players, everyone learning a new system, etc. — but the reality is, 16 games into the season, the Thunder are regressing. After a promising 6-1 start they have gone 2-7 with 4 of those losses coming to teams without a winning record at the time. This was supposed to be the easy portion of the season, yet OKC is consistently making bad teams look good. Their early season offensive flow has stagnated, their defensive rebounding is far off from where it ought to be, and most worrisome, their defense has turned into a sieve, surrendering an average of 111 points in their last 9 games. We knew that the defense would be a work in progress, but they aren’t stopping teams’ primary action, their secondary action, and especially the 3-point shot, as their opponents’ 3-point percentage in these 3 losses have been 50%, 52%, and 43%.
Right now, everything is going in the wrong direction.
- It is doubly painful to see those opponents’ 3-point percentages while contrasting it to the Thunder’s, who sit in the bottom 3rd of the league.
- But hey, Anthony Morrow finally got one to drop (a 4-point play to boot).
- At the beginning of this week, sitting on a 2 game win streak, I thought it fair to think that OKC could easily string together a record of perhaps 7-2 by the end of November. However, with this loss to the Kings, it is apparent that OKC’s double-digit-deficits can happen against anyone, and suddenly games against the Nuggets and Knicks aren’t so certain. Instead of an ahead of the curve record heading into December of perhaps 13-7, it is entirely possible OKC could be 2-3 games under .500 by then.
- Watching the Thunder’s play and momentum disintegrate is giving me flashbacks to the beginnings of 2014, when once again it was Westbrook and a bunch of guys struggling against everyone. However, the difference then, at least for the beginning of the season, is that team stayed competitive because of an aggressive defense. This current team has yet to find a defensive identity that works (much like regular season last year).
- Perhaps the saddest note to end all this is that as we watch other good/great teams begin to pull away, even at this early stage of the season, it becomes a stark contrast to what the Thunder are going to be this year; instead of a mediocre team learning to be good, they just might be a bad team learning to become mediocre.
- OKC next plays the Nuggets, and then get the Pistons on the 2nd of a back-to-back. 5 games in a week; this could really snowball.
Even with all of this frustration, don’t forget that OKC HAS beaten the Rockets and Clippers (almost twice!). Whatever we aren’t seeing now, there is still something there that is waiting to be solved.