OKLAHOMA CITY – Funny how beating up on Dallas and Golden State in a two-game span does wonders.
For attitude. For national perception. For general well-being.
Hey, it’s not like these guys are made out of wood. Everyone has feelings, and sometimes a little confidence boost is a good thing – even for a team as good as the Thunder.
Monday, Dallas played the role of slump-buster pretty well and Wednesday Golden State nailed the role of ego inflator, in a 119-98 run-over at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This week, that combination has resulted in a pair of routs that has seemingly gotten everything in order for Oklahoma City after a sluggish 3-3 road trip that included a loss to this very same Golden State team about two weeks ago.
On face value, you would never elevate a team to championship status after a pair of wins against these two teams, but for the Thunder, who have been wildly inconsistent of late, despite a 37-12 record, this short stretch has to be helpful.
“You have a long season and you have ups and downs,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We try to stay focused so we can weather some downs. We didn’t play well in Cleveland, and the last two have been good.”
Not only have the Thunder won two in a row for the first time since Jan. 18, they have done it with flair and finesse and look a lot like the team that advanced to the Finals a season ago.
And, uhhh, not like that team that lost in Cleveland on Saturday.
“I just feel like we’re playing basketball the right way,” said guard Reggie Jackson, who had 12 points, six assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes Wednesday. “That would be our confidence boost. I think we felt like we were a little stagnant just as a team overall. Now we’re getting it back.”
Sure helps that Dallas, then Golden State and now Phoenix on Friday are the scheduled teams. Monday, Dallas had a hobbled Dirk Nowitzki and no Vince Carter and Wednesday Golden State had no rest, coming into Oklahoma City at 4:30 in the morning only a few hours after giving up 140 points and an NBA record-tying 23 3-pointers in a loss at Houston. Meanwhile, Phoenix is 17-32. The Thunder won at Phoenix on Jan. 14.
Not exactly barometer setters, but you could say it looks like Oklahoma City has given the impression that it has it figured out. Durant had 25 points. Russell Westbrook had 22, Kevin Martin had 21, Serge Ibaka was 7-of-10 shooting with nine rebounds and six blocks and Kendrick Perkins had 11 rebounds. The Thunder shot 50 percent. Golden State shot 40.9 percent and turned it over 19 times.
That’s pretty much a complete win.
“I hope so,” Durant said on whether the team was starting to play better. “We can’t get too happy about it. We have to focus on these next two.”
The next two are home against Phoenix and then at Phoenix on Sunday before getting Utah and then Miami.
Now would be a good time to get that confidence rolling.
“We had some good carryover from last game,” Durant said.
That started early when the Thunder scored 34 points in the first quarter and then 33 in the second quarter, led by 18 at half and shot 56.5 percent. And when the lead slid down to just 11 early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder went on a 14-2 run.
Easy as that, and the kind of easy that didn’t happen much on that recent road trip where the Thunder fell at Denver, Golden State and the Lakers.
“I thought everyone played well on both ends of the floor,” Brooks said, talking defense first, like he generally does after games. “I’m looking for us to just continue to bring the effort on the defensive end.”
Maybe it’s the home crowd. Maybe it’s the weaker teams coming through Oklahoma City.
But maybe Oklahoma City is playing better. That’s always a possibility.