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Sounds of Thunder: Oklahoma City need a spark coming into home stretch of season

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With anything from a #3 seed to missing the playoffs altogether still a possibility, the Thunder need to handle their business the rest of the way.

Bruce Ely @ Getty Images

I have followed the NBA for more decades than I care to count and without doubt, this 2017/18 version of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the most infuriating team I have ever kept track of. After 65 games, that is the only thing I am sure of because everything else — and I do mean everything — is pure guesswork.

Was it just 9 months ago that Sam Presti pulled off the big trade of the summer that brought Paul George to the Heartland? And Carmelo Anthony just 3 months later?

So much potential and just a 37 and 28 record to show for it. Great wins sandwiched between half-assed effort and horrendous losses has turned the Thunder’s regular season into a fan’s worst nightmare, and there are still 17 games yet to suffer through.

Opportunities squandered along the way and the injury to Andre Roberson has cast a shadow over the team in the last few weeks and even Russell Westbrook, the league’s reigning MVP, is showing signs of frustration.

Westbrook’s numbers since 2/1:

nba.com

Westbrook, who has always been a source of boundless energy, is clearly struggling. His points are down, turnovers are up, and an always shaky 3-point shot is in a 19% toilet. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are also showing signs of fading. George, the team’s best 3-point marksman has hit only 8 of his last 38 attempts, 21%, and Anthony posted a -4.3 NRtg for the month of February.

Can Brewer Help?

After signing free agent Corey Brewer for the rest of the season, the roster appears set for the final push, but how much pushing this team will actually do is just as much a question as Brewer’s role going into the playoffs.

When NewsOK’s Erik Horne asked about Brewer’s minutes with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams, head coach Billy Donovan had this to say:

“Whether that means starting him or him coming off the bench, I’m not quite sure what’s best because I don’t have enough information to see him playing with those guys,”

“I know there’s not a lot of games left, not a lot of time left to figure that out, but there may be some trial and error where you look at some things that may be good and you stick with it.”

Sounds like more experimenting with the rotation to me, though Donovan did say he wanted to see more than 12 minutes of Brewer per game moving forward.

Obviously, with no playing time or practice with his new team, Brewer struggled in his debut in a Thunder uniform against a red-hot Portland team on the road, but the results weren’t all bad as the 11 year vet — signed to help shore up a sagging Thunder defense — collected 2 steals, should have been the beneficiary of 2 charge calls, and posted the team’s best DRtg (97) against the Blazers.

“It’s pretty tough when you don’t know anything,” Brewer said. “You don’t know the calls or the offense or defense, but hey, that’s the way it works.

“But I’m happy and I got a chance to practice with the guys today. I feel a lot better.”

Brewer and Donovan won back to back National Championships in 2006 and 2007 during their days at the University of Florida and it obvious that Brewer trusts Donovan completely:

Energy and winning — the two areas Brewer talks about most when asked what he feels he can bring to the Thunder — are exactly what this team needs now with the hottest team in the NBA, the Houston Rockets, coming into town Tuesday night.

Reigniting a season is a tall order for a 32-year-old career journeyman player approaching the back-side of his career, but fortunately for the Thunder, they aren’t looking for a big offensive surge, just a spark — specifically a defensive spark — and Brewer’s enthusiasm could be the elixir this team needs to finish strong.

Seventeen Games Left

The Thunder are now 37 and 28 and hold the #7 spot in the West. Only a game and a half separate the Thunder from the #3 Trailblazers and home court advantage, but that same slim margin is also all that separates the OKC from the #9 Clippers and watching the playoffs from home.

OKC kicks off the final stretch with a four game home-stand:

3/6, Houston Rockets, (49-13); The Rockets are the top team in the NBA and are currently riding a 15 game winning streak. The Thunder beat the Rockets in a 112-107 Christmas Day thriller, but the Rockets were without Chris Paul. The Rockets are 38 and 6 in games with Paul in the lineup but just 11 and 7 when he sits. The Thunder will have their hands full if they want to stop the Rockets current streak and kick off this home-stand with a win.

Look for Billy Donovan to get Corey Brewer as many opportunities as possible against James Harden.

3/8, Phoenix Suns; The lowly 19 and 47 Suns have been a surprising pain in the butt for the Thunder all season, as have a lot of future lottery teams this year. After a lackadaisical first half and falling behind by as many as 13 points in the 3rd quarter, the Thunder finally got over the hump and outscored the Suns by 21 points in the last 21 12 minutes on March 2nd to secure their only win over the Suns this season. With the playoffs just weeks away, hopefully, the Thunder will take a more proactive approach against Phoenix in this last meeting.

3/10, San Antonio Spurs, (37-27); The Thunder and Spurs have split their two meetings thus far as both teams were able to hold serve on their home court. Kawhi Leonard is out as he was in both previous meetings and the Spurs are fading, but we are still talking about the Spurs and Gregg Popovich. Having slipped into the same mid-level standings swamp as the Thunder, the Spurs at #5 will show up ready to play and the Thunder must prepare to match their intensity.

3/12, Sacramento Kings, (20-44); Thunder fans, beware. After a big match up with the Spurs, the Thunder kick off the first game of a home and road back-to-back against a future lottery team. These type games have produced some of the Thunder’s worst performances of the season. Perhaps the Thunder have learned a few things about themselves this season and they make short work of the Kings to log some valuable rest for the starters before the long flight to Atlanta.

Let’s see how the Thunder handle these 4 games before digging in any further. If the Thunder are serious about making a run they should go to Atlanta as winners of at least 3 of these home games. If not, the other 13 games may not matter much.

Poll

How will the Thunder perform during this home stand?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    4-0!
    (20 votes)
  • 35%
    3-1
    (43 votes)
  • 34%
    2-2
    (41 votes)
  • 5%
    1-3
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    0-4 (in other words, watching the playoffs from home)
    (10 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now