The Oklahoma City Thunder were blown out by the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. Russell Westbrook did not even enter the game in the fourth quarter. Paul George shot 1-for-14 from the field in the 112-80 defeat. The entire Thunder team played poorly on national television against the best team in the NBA.
It was only one game, but that one game did not gift Thunder fans with any optimism regarding the team. The team couldn’t get a defensive rebound and missed several open three-pointers in an ugly second-half collapse.
If you were paying attention to the team, you knew this type of performance was coming. The Thunder have struggled mightily since defensive star Andre Roberson suffered a season-ending knee injury in late January. in the 12 games that Roberson has missed, the Thunder are 5-7, have given up an average of almost 110 points per game, and have allowed several role players on opposing teams to have career games.
The Thunder have struggled to beat bad teams during their recent streak of poor play. On Thursday, the Thunder won at the buzzer against the Kings. In their last game before the All-Star Break, Oklahoma City barely finished off a feisty Grizzlies squad.
The Thunder’s recent struggles become more alarming when you take a look at the Western Conference standings. Right now, the Thunder sit in seventh place. They would be playing against the second-seeded Warriors in the first round if the playoffs started today. Based on what happened Saturday, it would be a quick series.
Entering the All-Star Break, the Thunder were in fifth place in the West. Since then, the Trail Blazers and Pelicans have leapfrogged them in the standings. If the Thunder can win their next few games, they will likely jump back into fifth place because of the crowded nature of the Western Conference standings. Right now, the third-place Spurs and tenth-place Jazz are separated by just 4.5 games. The fifth-place Trail Blazers and eighth-place Nuggets are separated by just 1 game.
Based on fivethirtyeight’s NBA predictions, the Thunder are no lock to even play in the postseason. As of today, the team has an 82 percent chance of making the playoffs. That statistic cannot be comforting for the Thunder and their fans. The team missed the playoffs in 2015, but their best players, Westbrook and Kevin Durant, each missed a significant amount of games due to injury in that season. This season, Westbrook and George have not missed many games.
Furthermore, the Thunder’s schedule does not get any easier. In their final 22 games, they play another game against the Warriors, two games against the current top-seeded Rockets, two games against the third-seeded Spurs, and road games against the Eastern Conference’s top two teams, the Raptors and the Celtics.
The Thunder are going to have to take advantage of every opportunity remaining on their schedule if they want to improve their seeding. Fortunately for the team, there are three very winnable games on the schedule this week. Their next three opponents, the Magic, Mavericks, and Suns, could be categorized as being in the league-wide tanking battle. Last week, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban even admitted that he would like to see his team lose games. It’s likely that these three teams all end up with high picks in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The final 22 games of the 2018 season will be very important for the Thunder. The team’s future may be decided by the way the season ends. George will be a free agent after the season and he may return home to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers. If the Thunder can finish off the season with a surge, they will have a better chance at keeping George. If they flounder and barely make the playoffs, George will probably leave. The Thunder will have to face the pressure and play up to their capabilities if they want to make a playoff run in 2018.
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