Mar 6, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center.
Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder have gone through a lot of changes.
From the preseason to now the Thunder have lost Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins.
Oklahoma City turned Reggie Jackson from a bench player to a starter and then sent him back to the bench when Westbrook returned after missing 27 games. They’ve started Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, Steven Adams and acquired Caron Butler.
A rocky start, then a December where the Thunder looked like they were the best team in the NBA . A 10-game winning streak starting in January made OKC look unstoppable. A two-game losing streak where the Thunder gave up double-digit leads to Phoenix and then the woeful Lakers has turned the season again.
And it’s only March.
Coach Scott Brooks said it’s not about changes.
He’s wrong, though. There’s a major change the Thunder need to make and it has nothing to do with what’s on the court, although one could certainly make a case for a number of different issues, starting with addressing with what’s going on defensively.
The change the Thunder needs to make is simple: Play with some urgency, some intensity and some edge.
That formula helped Oklahoma City to the Finals two seasons ago with largely the same roster the Thunder have now. That combination has been missing while Phoenix and even the Lakers were able to find it.
"We’re just not brining the right focus," Derek Fisher told The Oklahoman. "I’m saying right now, we’re not putting it collectively on the court."
For years, it’s been the opponent that hasn’t played with focus or energy or want-to. Now it’s the Thunder doing it. Maybe that’s what happens when you get to the level OKC is now â a contender, an elite team expected to go to the Finals. It’s easy to take plays off, or quarters off or even games off. How else to explain no-show performances against Cleveland at home and then letting an 18-point lead slip against the Lakers?
Kevin Durant is in the MVP discussion and Westbrook is good enough to get the Thunder back to the NBA Finals, yet often times the Thunder have looked disinterested and sloppy, apathetic and angry.
The kind of thing and behavior fans in Oklahoma City notice from other teams, not its own, because for the past five years, the Thunder have always played harder and been the team people were proud of.
So, what happened? Along with the five-game at the top of the Western Conference, it’s gone, that sense of unity and team.
Durant has been seen arguing with Jackson on numerous occasions throughout the season. Brooks has never looked more frustrated, turning to his go-to reasoning of the team just needs to play better defense. He’s said it because it’s true, but if he keeps saying it, it’s because the players aren’t responding, making one think there’s a disconnect from the bench to the court.
Too much of that and suddenly losses happen, even to teams like the Lakers and to Cleveland and to Phoenix and beyond.
Houston comes to town Tuesday night. The Thunder should have plenty of motivation.
Now we get to see if they have the right kind of focus.