As far as moral victories go, Wednesday would have to rank pretty high.
Of course, we’re talking about a team that went to the Western Conference Finals a season ago, has been in the Finals in recent history and is in the conversation when it comes to teams that could win it all.
Yeah, that’s where we are now as the 2014-15 season opened up late Wednesday evening in Portland.
Things have changed.
We’re light years away from James Harden coming off the bench, instead, the Thunder went with Lance Thomas as its sixth man and put him back in for offense when desperately trying to hang on in the fourth quarter.
And that’s how you go from, "That was easy," to, "Well, it could have been a lot worse."
Wednesday wasn’t so bad, really. Down six players, including Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City got an MVP performance from Russell Westbrook and led for the better part of 35-plus minutes against a loaded Portland team.
Westbrook had 26 points and five assists at halftime. He had 36 in the third quarter while the rest of the team combined for all of 35. Eventually it caught up with Westbrook and the Thunder as they were outscored 31-12 in the fourth quarter.
But really, what did you expect? Westbrook did everything he could (38 points, six assists, three steals), but the rest of the lineup was a mismatch of busted offense featuring Sebastian Telfair passing to Andre Roberson on the wing. Not exactly a winning combination.
That’s how you get to the point where it’s a moral victory. An inspired effort that ends up looking worse than it was. But then again, all the Thunder had was nine players available and it took some effort to recognize about four of them.
Still, OKC led by two after three quarters.
Things don’t look to be a whole lot better Thursday as OKC has to play at the Clippers and things don’t look to be a whole lot better until Kevin Durant is scheduled to return in about five weeks, or until someone, anyone, can offer Westbrook some help because Westbrook can’t do much more. He made 15-of-16 free throws and played just 33 minutes.
Perry Jones was one-for-nine and he has to start. Serge Ibaka was 4-for-11. He has to be better, especially while Jackson and Lamb are out.
The Thunder defense has never been great, but now it’s offense is dangerously close to being dormant. There’s no one but Westbrook who can create his own shot. There’s no one other than Westbrook who can be trusted.
Thomas was great. He had 10 points in the first quarter and 14 for the game. He looked like a player desperate to succeed.
The rest of the team looked like it was just trying to get by.
Maybe that’s how it’s going to be until Durant returns.