Thunder seeking to become road warriors on upcoming trip

With the Thunder sitting with a 19-20 record, can the team turn things around on a long roadtrip?

Mark D. Smith/Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder start their longest road trip of the season this evening in Orlando.

Five games over the next week, with games at Miami, Washington, Atlanta and Cleveland. One home game on Jan. 26 before taking off for another two on the road.

Oklahoma City won’t play two consecutive home games until Feb 6 vs. New Orleans and Feb. 8 against the Clippers.

If the Thunder are going to get into the playoffs, it’s going to have to start with them playing well on the road.

OKC is 19-20 overall, tied with New Orleans at ninth in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind Phoenix for the No. 8 spot and five games behind San Antonio for the No. 7 spot.

The Thunder haven’t won two games in a row since Dec. 31-Jan. 1 and have been seemingly uninspired until Friday’s win against Golden State. 

How Oklahoma City plays tonight and in the near future is a mild mystery. Here are two things to watch for as the Thunder hit the road:

1. Russell Westbrook

Well, obviously, Westbrook is always worth watching, but he was so good – like Hall of Fame good – against the Warriors, it will be interesting to see if Westbrook plays at that level, the same one he played at when Durant was out with a sprained ankle, or if he dips down.

Westbrook  had 17 points, 17 assists and 15 rebounds against the Warriors. But he had eight turnovers against the Rockets the game before and went through a five-game streak where he shot 27-of-99. The Thunder went 2-3 in those games.

By now we all know what Westbrook does. He can dazzle and disappoint on regular occasion, but when he plays like he did against Golden State Friday, the Thunder are near impossible to beat.

Meanwhile, Westbrook’s demeanor off the court has soured in the past few weeks. He is more terse and irritable with the media, even after good games like Friday. It will be interesting to see if Westbrook’s attitude brightens on the road.

2. The Dion Waiters/Reggie Jackson experience

We’re only a few weeks from the NBA’s trading deadline, and it’s expected the Thunder will make another move.

They acquired Waiters before the team’s game Jan. 7 at Sacramento. Waiters has played four games with the team and has been immediately involved in the rotation, playing no less than 22 minutes in any game. He played 37 against Golden State Friday and scored 21 points and is clearly a trustable 

Meanwhile, Jackson’s playing time has dipped. Naturally, there’s a connection as both play the shooting guard spot as does Jeremy Lamb, who has fallen completely out of the rotation. 

Kendrick Perkins has been among the names, with Lamb and Perry Jones, to be on the move, possibly to the Nets for Brook Lopez, but that trade fell through, for now. Perkins is a valuable asset for a lot of teams because he has an expiring contract. He’s also valuable to the Thunder because, not only has Perkins played well this season, he’s particularly valuable in the lockerroom. 

Jackson has shown discontent most of the season with the Thunder, saying at the beginning of the year, he wanted to start. That doesn’t seem to be within the Thunder’s plans, however. And now with the addition of Waiters, who does a lot of the same things Jackson does on the court, Jackson, who is in the last year of his contract, would seem to be expendable. 

Since Waiters has joined the team, Jackson has not played more than 25 minutes in a game. He was 3-of-11 against Golden State in 18 minutes. Jackson is shooting 39.6 percent in his last 10 games and 42 percent for the season, his lowest percentage since his rookie season where he played only 45 games. 

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook said they wanted Waiters closer to them in the lockerroom, so Waiters, after one home game, had his stuff moved. His previous spot in the lockerroom was next to Jackson. 

Is there something to that?  Likely we’ll find out more on this road trip.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK