Oklahoma City Thunder: The Art Of Playing With Fire


With each passing day, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s struggles become more and more concerning

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The saying goes: “if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.” And that’s exactly what the Oklahoma City Thunder have been doing ever since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook returned from injuries more than a month ago.

OKC is currently two games (in the loss column) out of the No. 8 seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference standings. The Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans are currently percentage points ahead of the Thunder.

The Thunder have dropped four of their last seven games, including last night’s decisive loss against the Houston Rockets — a game that they would’ve won last year.

That is playing with fire.

But this season, something just isn’t right with this team. Something looks off. And that could very well be the growing pains of trying to incorporate Dion Waiters into the rotation, or it could have nothing to do with it. Either way, something is not right with this team.

Yes, the injuries to Durant (foot) and Westbrook (hand) have hurt this team’s rhythm. There’s no question. Although, the two have been back for more than a month. Instead, they look like this is the first time that they’re playing together. Ever.

2009-10 ★39.5.476.3657.62.830.1
2010-11 ★38.9.462.3506.82.727.7
2011-12 ★38.6.496.3878.03.528.0
2012-13 ★38.5.510.4167.94.628.1
2013-14 ★38.5.503.3917.45.532.0

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/15/2015.

The weirdest part of it all is that it’s almost as if Durant (above) and Westbrook (below) have switched identities, and roles. Westbrook is averaging more points than Durant for the first time in their careers together.

2010-11 ★.442.3304.68.21.921.9
2011-12 ★.457.3164.65.51.723.6
2012-13 ★.438.3235.27.41.823.2

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/15/2015.

That, also, could be part of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent struggle, too. Right now, OKC is top-10 in defense, but only ranks 22nd in the league in offensive rating (101.1). A team with Durant and Westbrook has the 22nd ranked offense in the NBA.

Let that sink in…

Nevertheless, the Thunder are playing with fire. For much of the season, despite the team’s early season shortcomings, we’ve almost viewed it as a forgone conclusion that OKC was still going to find a way to make the playoffs. And that’s an entirely fine assumption.

After all, why wouldn’t a Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-run team not make the playoffs? That’s blasphemy.

But, what if they don’t make it?

What if they continued playing mediocre basketball until they fell into a never-ending funk? What if they can’t catch the Phoenix Suns, who have made a nice acquisition of their own last week by adding Brandan Wright?

What if they do indeed trade for Brook Lopez, but messes up all of its cohesion the team had perfectly created through the previous handful of years?

What if the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to miss the playoffs during the season before THE season — you know the year when they could lose Kevin Durant in exchange for absolutely nothing?

There are plenty of possible repercussions from this season, and not just missing out on this year’s playoffs. In fact, that would probably be the least of their concerns.

On thing is for sure though, the Oklahoma City Thunder need to stop playing with fire. If they can’t do that, then sooner or later we know what’s going to happen.

They are going to get burned. And not just on the basketball court.

Next: Are the Pistons a shoe in for the Eastern Conference playoffs?