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Sounds of Thunder: Are the Oklahoma City Thunder finally in “Go” Mode?

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With the schedule they have in front of them, they should be.

Layne Murdoch, Sr. @ Getty Images

It is only one game and the opponent wasn’t much to write home about, but at least the Oklahoma City showed in a 115 to 87 beat down of the Phoenix Suns that they can play with urgency for 48 minutes when they have to.

Not that it was a perfect 48 minutes as the Suns took an early 17 to 10 lead halfway through the first quarter and the Thunder committed 18 turnovers on the night, but the intensity level the Thunder played with was much higher and more consistent than the lackadaisical effort the Thunder put forth against the Rockets just 2 nights prior.

Corey Brewer got his first start in a Thunder uniform after joining the team just days ago and after a few adjustments settled in and gave OKC the spark I had hoped to see when the Thunder signed him. Again, it was just one game against a weak opponent, but that same opponent had the Thunder down by 2 going into the 4th quarter just a week ago and totally embarrassed the Thunder 2 months ago. Like it or not, Brewer made a difference.... and he did it after a very short time with the team.

Brewer likes playing with Steven Adams and after the Funaki’s best performance in 3 games and the first double-double in 4, the feeling appears mutual. Anyone who follows Adams closely knows he likes it when his teammates play within the system, a sentiment he has shared in multiple post-game interviews. Corey Brewer is a system player and as the game progressed, Adams’ confidence in his new teammate grew as did his numbers.

Steven Adams wasn’t the only Thunder player affected by Brewer. Russell Westbrook put together one of his most efficient games of the season, turning the ball over just twice, and converting on 11 of his 14 attempts, none from 3-point range.

Forget Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, this Thunder team goes only as far as Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams go and if Brewer can help keep them playing at the level we saw against Phoenix, he has my vote.

Moving Forward

I was going to wait until after the Sacramento game on Monday to go into this, but the upcoming schedule dictates that I take a more proactive position.

There is an old saying in Oklahoma that goes, make hay while the sun shines. Many a farmer has lost entire crops of hay because they waited a day to bale and let a rain spoil their harvest. The Thunder have let more sunny days pass than I care to count, but now the straw is on the ground and a big storm is on its way.

NBA Western Conference Standings, 3/9/2018

nba.com

The Thunder are right in the middle of the #3 through #10 spots in the Western Conference with a HUGE game against the San Antonio Spurs, coming up. Did I say HUGE? My bad, I meant to say, HUGE!!!

If they win that game, the Thunder moves up one spot, guaranteed. Win it and see the Timberwolves fall to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, and the Thunder could head into their 4th and last game of this home-stand against the Sacramento Kings as the 5th seed. Couple all that with a couple of losses for the Pelicans between now and Sunday and the Thunder would be neck and neck with the Pelicans and the 4th seed.

The #3 seeded Trailblazers aren’t currently in reach, but play Golden State on Friday. A loss to the defending champs would make a tight Western Conference bracket even more suffocating.

After the Spurs, the Thunder go up against the Sacramento Kings and then go on the road to face the Atlanta Hawks... then the storm clouds start rolling in. Again, both games, HUGE!! Buckle up Thunder Nation, there is a tempest. The Clippers are currently clinging to the last playoff spot in the West with the Cavaliers, Magic, Bulls, and Rockets on the schedule before they face the Thunder. OKC is currently 4 games up on the Clippers in the win column and it is imperative that the Thunder keep up that distance.

March 18, Toronto Raptors, (47-17) - Road game. The Raptors are the #1 seed in the East and in a dogfight with the Boston Celtics to keep the top spot. The Thunder knocked off Toronto in OKC on December 27th and it is safe to guess the Raptors, currently the best home team in the NBA, will be looking for revenge as well as keeping their spot secure in the East.

March 20, Boston Celtics, (46-20) - Road game. Speaking of top East Coast teams, the Thunder follow-up their game with the Raptors with the team hot on their heels, the Boston Celtics. The Thunder let the Celtics get away from them in OKC on November 3rd after blowing an 18 point halftime lead, but the Celtics are the toughest matchup for Western Conference opponents and are always tough at the Garden.

March 23, Miami Heat, (35-31) - Home game. After three tough tests, the Thunder gets somewhat of a respite against the Heat. The Heat are not a strong road team and have an 11 and 13 record against the West, but tougher games on the way, the Thunder can’t let down. This will be the first meeting of the season for these two teams.

March 25, Portland Trailblazers, (39-26) - Home game. The Thunder are 0 and 3 against the Trailblazers this season but all 3 games have been close. This game could easily be a preview of a first-round playoff match-up depending on how the conference pans out by season’s end.

March 29th, San Antonio Spurs, (37-28) - Road game. The Thunder gets 3 days to prepare for the Spurs who will be coming off an East Coast road trip and games against the Wizards and Bucks. This could be a great opportunity for the Thunder, depending on Saturday’s result, to win the season series against the Spurs for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

March 30, Denver Nuggets, (35-30) - Home game. Both teams have beaten the other on their home court and a win here would give the Thunder one of it few tiebreaker advantages. The Nuggets will be the Thunder’s 7th opponent in a row with a winning record, so March, at least for the Thunder, comes in like a lamb, but goes out like a lion.

We’ll rate the rest of the games if the Thunder make it this far, but don’t expect a break from winning teams as April kicks off with the red-hot Pelicans, the Warriors, and the Rockets. Finally a break? Nope, then its the Heat on the road and to finish off the season, a home game against a physical Grizzlies team. That’s 11 winning teams in a row and big Marc Gasol to finish things off. Thanks, NBA, you’re all heart.

Like I said, a tempest and the only silver lining I can see at this point is not having to look at this haircut again this season:

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

SMH. I hate to break it to Elfrid Payton, but whoever told him this hairstyle looks good is not his friend. Quack, quack...