Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
OKC is 5-5 in its last 10 games, with two losses to the Clippers. A pre-playoff blip, or is something bothering you about the Thunder?
Steve Aschburner: When I saw the Thunder in Milwaukee recently, I was awed by their firepower, chemistry and aggressiveness. But I didn’t fully factor in the opposition – the Bucks offered no resistance in the paint or at the rim, and Russwell Westbrook was matchup hell for both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Serge Ibaka blocked five shots in a quarter … but five Bucks’ shots. My concern is that against bigger teams – up front and in the backcourt – OKC is the club that plays smaller, relying on jump shots, without much in the low post and without enough defensive tenacity. There are no perfect teams this season, these guys included.
Fran Blinebury: Despite their little 5-5 walkabout, the Thunder are winning at a .721 clip. Projected over the course of a full 82-game schedule, that would be a 59-win season and it’s hard to see that as any kind of flop. I consider this to a be pre-playoff hiccup, where OKC has clinched the division title and has maybe eased up off the mental gas pedal. Having said all that, I’ll repeat what I’ve always said about the Thunder. They need to work on attacking the basket late in games and stop relying on jump shots to solve every problem.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The concern now is the same concern as before: The Thunder do not take care of the ball, and that could obviously cost them in a tight playoffs. The slump? The postseason is often different than the regular season, depending on the matchup. Win the first round 4-0 or 4-1 and the questions will be about their invincibility.
Shaun Powell: OKC is simply proving there are no slam-dunks among the title contenders. The Thunder could lose in the early rounds if they run into a hot team, or they can win it all. The West should be Wild in May and June and I’ll wager big that someone will come along and derail a projected OKC-Spurs conference final. It could be the defending champion Mavericks, or Kobe, or Lob Angeles, or the dangerous Grizzlies or even the Nuggets. It’s that deep.
John Schuhmann: Since three of the losses (two to the Clips, one to the Grizz) were against possible conference semis opponents, yeah, I’d say that’s concerning. What’s interesting is that it was the Thunder’s offense that failed them in four of the five losses. Defensive consistency has been their biggest issue for most of the season, but they’ve really fallen off offensively in April, with Russell Westbrook shooting just 40 percent. Is he coming back down to earth after shooting 48 percent through March? If so, then the Thunder have issues.
Sekou Smith: In a normal season if I saw a contender wobbling to the regular season finish line this way, I might be worried. But this is no normal season. A mini-slump 60 games into an 82-game season wouldn’t rate anything more than a second glance. Again, this is not a normal season. But the Thunder’s struggles, particularly those against a Clippers team they could very well see in the postseason, are cause for some concern. In a postseason where the matchups are going to be everything, the contenders on both sides need to be wary of those teams that pose the biggest matchup problems. One other worry about the Thunder is their relative lack of playoff experience. They’ve only been deep into the postseason as a group one time. So we don’t know what sort of bounce-back this crew will have from this late-season hiccup. So I’d say this is something more than a blip — but not reason for all out panic.