State of the Thunder: Hitting the road
OKLAHOMA CITY – Scott Brooks says he's a fan. Says he studies the standings on a daily basis. That's what he's always done since he started paying attention to the NBA as a kid and then as a player before becoming a coach.
That's good. It's time to really start taking notes.
The Thunder begin what is certainly the most-challenging part of their schedule with nine of their next 10 on the road. This is when Oklahoma City's season could turn.
Figuring out a way to get home court in the Western Conference is big, but maintaining an edge on the Eastern Conference leaders is even more crucial.
New York, Indiana and Miami all lead their respective divisions, but conventional wisdom says the Heat will once again be in the Finals, and the Thunder haven't exactly fared well in Miami, having lost four in a row there.
The Thunder are 27-8, which puts them four games ahead of any of the three Eastern Conference leaders. They are tied with the Clippers in the loss column at the top of the Western Conference standings and two games ahead of the Spurs in the loss column.
"I look at the standings from Day 1," Brooks said. "I look at them and see where we are and where the teams that we are competing against in our conference are."
Following the standings is one thing, but playing for home court is another. Brooks and his players have maintained that all 82 games matter. And unlike the Spurs, who seem to put their interest in resting and making sure their starters are healthy come playoff time, the Thunder are bent more toward individual wins.
"Everyone cares," Scott Brooks said. "Or else why would you do what you do?"
The Thunder's next 11 games all come against Western Conference teams, getting the Clippers once, the Lakers twice and Memphis. They'll see Miami at home on Valentine's Day.
We're about to see how much Brooks and the Thunder care in the next few weeks.
Who's Hot: OK, so Russell Westbrook threw in a stinker at Washington on Monday night, but honestly, who didn't? Other than that, Westbrook has really been a lot better. Against Philadelphia, he had a game-best 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting and now has shot better than .500 in four of his past seven games. That's pretty good for a guy who is shooting 41 percent for the year.
Who's Not: Kevin Martin is struggling and part of it is because he seems to be taking bad shots. Martin has been better than .500 shooting just once in the past seven games. He scored 19 points Wednesday against Minnesota, but on 4-of-12 shooting. He was 3-of-12 against Washington and 5-of-12 against Toronto. In the past three games, Martin is 5-of-19 on 3-pointers. Martin is still averaging 15.2 points, but that total is as low as it's been all season.
1. The Thunder are known for their offense, but did you know they have the second-best defense in the league when looking at field goal percentage? They're allowing teams to shoot just 43 percent this season. behind only Indiana.
"We talk about having that mindset defensively because we are a defensive team that wants to score off of our defense," coach Scott Brooks said.
2. Clearly, the Thunder are interested in learning their lesson this season. After losing to San Antonio, they beat the Spurs. After losing to Atlanta, they beat the Hawks. And after losing to Minnesota, they beat the T-Wolves. And the good news is the Thunder still have games left against Miami, Washington and Memphis – all at home – after losing to them previously.
3. Learning from losses is nice. But losing to the Wizards is just silly. Washington is the worst team in the league and didn't have John Wall, Nene and two other contributors Monday, yet OKC didn't seem interested in competing until the end. C'mon, man. Sure, it's hard to get up for every game. Everyone knows that, but you would have thought since the Thunder lost at Washington a season ago they would have come out with a better sense of urgency. Didn't happen.
"We can lose to any team in the league, so we got to be prepared and not take these guys lightly."
– Kevin Durant to The Oklahoman before the Thunder went out and lost to the Wizards on Monday night
• It's not rare to see Kevin Durant signing autographs before and after games in Oklahoma City. Wednesday, he tossed a towel to a kid who was calling his name. That kind of stuff just makes fans for life. And earlier this week, Durant was checking his Twitter account and came across a request from the Children's Center in Oklahoma City to come see a teenage fan. The Oklahoman reported Durant visited Ramarcus Ervin, who needs 24-hour assistance, for his birthday. Durant brought a bunch of stuff, including shoes, a jersey and more.
• How bad was it against Washington on Monday? Well, the Thunder went almost 11 minutes without a basket in a span during the third and fourth quarter.
• Remember the Bradley Beal-to-Thunder trade rumors? Well, Beal looked good on Monday. He had 22 points and a game-winning shot over two defenders in the final second. Impressive for a 19-year-old.
• Looks like DeAndre Liggins is starting to get the call a bit more. He has played in just 12 games this season, but has seen action in the last four. Liggins' ascent comes at the same time as Eric Maynor's descent. Maynor seems to no longer be an option while Liggins is playing a lot more. He played 12 minutes against Minnesota, a season-high Wednesday
• Anyone looked at the standings in the Northwest Division lately? Well, it's pretty much done and over with. The Thunder are 7.5 games up on Portland and Denver after Wednesday night.
Up next: Get ready for a road trip. The Thunder are on the road coming up with a Friday game at the Lakers, Sunday at Portland and Monday at Phoenix. The Thunder will be home again Wednesday against the Nuggets before starting a five-game road trip Jan. 18 at Dallas.
Tower of Power? Well, we're about to find out. After a 5-4 stretch, the Thunder are on the road for nine of their next 10 and have a number of games against some of the best in the West, including stops at the Clippers and Golden State and the Lakers twice. If the Thunder stumble in the next few weeks, they could find themselves looking up for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter at @theandrewgilman