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The Gauntlet: Thunder win, but loss to Boston still haunts their future

Thunder back on winning side.

NBA: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After the Thunder gave Tuesday’s game away in Boston, they needed a win Friday night and needed it bad. You’ll see why in the latest installment of “the Gauntlet”. Let’s go.

Current NBA Western Conference Standings

Recent Game Results

Wednesday, 3/21/2018 - As a result of roof leaks at Smoothie King Arena in February, the New Orleans Pelicans had to play 3 games in a row during the most critical stretch of games of the season. After dispatching the Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Pels faced the Indiana Pacers Wednesday and came away with a big 96 to 92 win led by Anthony Davis’ 28 points and 13 rebound effort. Since DeMarcus Cousins season-ending Achilles injury on January 26th, Davis, no longer forced to share the ball with Cousins in the post, has averaged 31 points/gm.

The win moved the Pelicans up to #5 in Western Conference and just a 12 game behind the #4 Thunder.


The San Antonio Spurs notched their 5th consecutive win, topping the John Wall-less Washington Wizards, 98 to 90. This is the third game in a row the Spurs have benefited from catching opponents missing their best player which only seems fair as the Spurs have been without their best player, Kawhi Leonard, for all but 9 of their regular season games.

That run of depleted opponents ends for the Spurs when a healthy and hungry Utah Jazz team takes the floor at AT&T Center Friday night.

The win and current winning streak have steadily moved the Spurs from outside the playoff picture to just a 12 game behind #4 Oklahoma City in just 8 short days.


The Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers both won to keep their fading playoff hopes alive but will need to string more than just 1 win together to get back in the race. With Denver’s next 4 games and 6 of their last 10 games on the road and a 12 and 23 season road record, the odds are not in the Nuggets favor. The Clippers next 5 games are on the road along with 6 of their last 11. Although the Clippers are a 500 team on the road, they are two games behind two teams at #7 and #8 that have much easier schedules to finish the season.


Thursday, 3/22/2018 - The New Orleans Pelicans entered Thursday night’s game with the Los Angeles Lakers an exhausted basketball team, and for good reason. The Pels were playing their 5 game in 6 days and the 3rd game of a rare three-in-a-row. The odd schedule resulted when the Pelicans had to make up a rained out February game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.

As expected, the Pels had no legs for defense and the Lakers racked up 73 first-half points but only took a 2 point lead into halftime. Things got worse for the Pelicans in the third as exhausted legs refused to close out on open shooters and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took advantage with 7 of 9 3-point makes that drove the Lakers lead to 11. That’s when Lonzo Ball stepped in and saved the Pelicans.

First, the inspiration for the Big Baller brand threw the ball away and touched off a 9-point Pelican run that cut the Lakers lead to 2. Then, to cap things off, after going 1 for 7 from beyond the arc for 3 quarters, Big Baller decided to put the Lakers on his back and carry them.... which he did... right in a dumpster and a 128 to 125 loss with 5 more bricks from deep. Everyone in a Lakers uniform not named Ball shot 50% from 3-point range, but LaVar’s boy would not defer and spoiled a golden opportunity for the Lakers to snap a 3-game losing streak.

The win propelled the Pels into the #4 spot in the Western Conference Standings after the Thunder had a total brain-cramp against the Boston Celtics and blew a 6 pt lead in the final 20 seconds Tuesday night. The Pelicans have already clinched their season series with the Thunder so all ties go to the birds.


The Utah Jazz easily topped the lowly Dallas Mavericks, 119 to 112. The Jazz, who failed to gain any ground through the easy part their remaining schedule, now face 7 +500 opponents in their last 10 games with four of those contests against winning teams coming on the road. Next up for the Jazz is a trip to San Antonio and then a detour to Oracle Arena and a date with the Warriors.

The win didn’t change the Jazz’s current standing at #8, but did even their season record with the seventh seeded Minnesota Timberwolves.


Friday, 3/23/2018 - The Thunder needed a win against the Miami Heat in the worst way, the best way, or any way for that matter, and got it by topping a scrappy Heat squad, 105 to 99, at Chesapeake Energy Arena. After a bad loss at Boston on Tuesday cost the Thunder their #4 spot in the standings when the Pelicans won their third game in 3 nights on Thursday and San Antonio making an unlikely late season charge, another letdown by the Thunder would have put their once safe little playoff cushion in peril.

See WTLC recap for details.

The win put the Thunder back in the #4 spot - for now. New Orleans returns to action tomorrow and it would behoove an idle Thunder team and their #4 seeding if the Pels didn’t pull off the win in Houston.


It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, but the Spurs won again, 124 to 120. This time over a healthy Jazz team, but it took overtime for Pops and his crew to pull off their 6th win a row. Hopefully, either the Bucks or the Wizards can knock some of the jingle out of the Spurs before the Thunder face them at AT&T Center on March 29th, otherwise, the Thunder will have to knock off a team with an 8-game winning streak swagger after facing division rival and the current #3 seeded Portland Trailblazers in a probable bloodbath on March 25th.

The Spurs 6th win in a row didn’t improve the Spurs #6 spot, but it definitely tightened the sphincters of everyone within 2 games of them, including the Portland Trail Blazers.

The loss left the Jazz at #8 and surprisingly just a game ahead of a charging Nuggets team.


The Minnesota Timberwolves kept up their recent winning ways with a 108 to 104 road victory over the New York Knicks. The win guaranteed the T-Wolves their first winning season since 2005 and the loss reserved a spot at this summer’s lottery table for the Knicks.

The win stopped the Timberwolves free-fall down the standings at #7, a full game ahead of the Utah Jazz.


The Thunder blew a 6-point lead on the road at Boston on Tuesday and the Portland Trail Blazers blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead to those very same Celtics. 105 to 100, on Friday. It was almost satisfying until I remembered the Thunder loss on Tuesday kept the Blazers and their 3 to 0 season series lead a full game ahead of OKC going into the game on Sunday.

There is this to consider; true, the Thunder should have won Tuesday, but the Celtics skull drug the Blazer’s defense for 38 points on Friday, at the Moda Center.

The Trail Blazers didn’t lose their #3 spot with this loss, but coupled with their loss to the Rockets on Tuesday, it leaves Thunder fans shaking their heads about their coulda, shoulda, woulda’s and will make for some interesting discussion.

Upcoming Thunder Trifecta

Sunday, 3/25/2018 - Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers have finally hit the +500 Gauntlet and promptly dropped their last two outings at home. It’s probably cruel at this point to mention the Thunder could have been within a half game of the Blazers had they not let a game they had won slip through their fingers... so I’m going to mention it. The Thunder blew a golden opportunity to sit within a half game of the Trail Blazers now.

Thursday, 3/29/2018 - San Antonio Spurs

Right now, the Spurs are hot, but aging (or at least we think they are aging. There is the possibility that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are actually from the planet Vulcan and just teenagers). Between now and this meeting at the AT&T Center, the Thunder have one home game while the Spurs play 2 winning teams on the road. Maybe that will be enough to give the Thunder the edge they need to break the Spurs’ current 7-game home winning streak.

Friday, 3/30/2018 - Denver Nuggets

The Thunder’s last back-to-back of the season. Thank goodness it is at the Peake after a short flight back from San Antonio, but like many of the Thunder’s 2nd games this season, against a rested Nuggets squad that may or may not be fighting for a playoff spot after a couple of tough road games against the 76ers and Raptors.


So far so good going with 2 out of 3, but it would be really nice if the Thunder could sweep these three games. That would give the Thunder 47 wins and a shot at 50 if they were to win 3 of their last 5. I made some pretty bold predictions about this Thunder team in the pre-season round table and 50 sounds so much better than 40-something. But as always with this Thunder team, as it is with any team at this time of year.....

“Just win, baby.”