HANG TIME, Texas — After getting run out of The Finals by Miami, there was something the Thunder had to prove coming into this season.
Could they pick themselves up from the 4-1 whipping and get back on track for another shot next June?
After James Harden took his beard and his explosive game off to Houston in the stunning trade just days before the season opener, the Thunder had something else to prove.
Could Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and their teammates close ranks around their new sixth man Kevin Martin and make the transition as seamless at possible?
After taking care of business and cruising through the first two months of the 2012-13 season with the best record in the NBA, there is yet another hurdle for the Thunder to clear.
Can they do it on the road?
After the Thunder face the Sixers tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, they’ll not only live out of the suitcases and live on room service for the rest of January, but also find out if they can live up to their reputation as the cream of the crop.
While there is nothing the least bit shabby about their 24-7 mark, the truth is that it has been constructed mostly on the tasty home cooking of Loud City. The Thunder’s 12 road games to date are the fewest of any team in the league. But that’s about to change as OKC will begin a stretch of playing 12 of the next 15 games away. The Thunder will not play consecutive home games again until Feb. 4-6.
“We know that it’s hard to win on the road and takes a different and higher level of concentration and effort,” Durant said. “But with the team that we have now, full of veteran players, and the things that we’ve been through together and accomplished, it’s not something that we fear or worry about.
“Most of the time when we go out on the court, it’s not what the other team does that’s on our minds. We try to focus on what we want to do. It’s about us playing our game, executing the right way on offense and playing good defense. It doesn’t matter where.”
Yet the road is always the proving ground, where the crowds are hostile, the rims seem less friendly and the ability to maintain concentration and composure is always tested. In high profile road games this season, OKC has lost at San Antonio, Boston and Miami, not to mention Minnesota.
“I think every time we lose around here everybody wants to go bananas,” Westbrook told The Oklahoman. “It’s all right. We’re in a good spot.”
Still, in a season in which the Thunder have had some slow starts and careless finishes, the tough road ahead is a chance to define themselves.
After a quick two-game trip to Toronto and Washington, the Thunder will return to OKC to face Minnesota. Then it’s head west to play at the Lakers, Portland and Phoenix. After another pit stop at home against Denver, they go out for a 10-day trip that will make six stops at Dallas, Denver, Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento and Lakers. Even when that long stretch is complete, they’ll come back home to play Memphis and then go right back out to Cleveland.
The Spurs have already won more road games (13) than the Thunder have even played. The Warriors have 11 road wins, the Clippers 10 and even the No.7 seed in the West Nuggets are even with the Thunder at eight.
“We all play the same number in the end, so it evens out,” Durant said. “So it’s just our turn. It’s a challenge.
“It’s not a case of disrespecting our opponents or looking past anybody,” Durant said. “We never do that. It’s not about where we play, but how we play.”
The truth usually comes out when the rubber hits the road.