HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Oklahoma City Thunder win far more often than not, they’re an elite team and, somehow, I’m having a hard time believing in them these days.
Same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers, another member of the Western Conference elite.
I know what the numbers say about the defending Western Conference champion Thunder: they’re 8-2 in their last 10 games, still have the best 1-2 punch in the West with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they have the experience of knowing exactly what it takes to climb the playoff mountain. This is a 50-win team (already) with a crew capable of taking it to the next level.
But that 11-4 record since the All-Star break includes losses to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs and two defeats at the hands of the sizzling Denver Nuggets, including Tuesday night’s eye-opening affair that saw Denver shred OKC for a jaw-dropping 72 points in the paint at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
I’m obviously not ready to write the Thunder off. But my belief in them has been shaken and stirred after watching them lose to these other elite teams.
I’m even more concerned about the Clippers, my one and only guilty pleasure in the league (I watch them religiously, against the best of the best and the lowest of the low because I’m afraid I’ll miss something like this, this or this). When Chris Paul gets rolling and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and the crew are flying around, there isn’t another team that entertains more.
Long before the Miami Heat went on their 23-game (and counting) tear and the Nuggets kicked off their 13-game streak, the Clippers owned the season’s most impressive win streak at 17 games.
But since the All-Star break, they are 7-5 and have losses to the Thunder, Nuggets, Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and now, the lowly Sacramento Kings.
The other contenders in the West have been sound during this same stretch, particularly against their peers. The Thunder and Clippers, though, just seem to be missing something right now.
For the Thunder, the glaring difference (even though I know Thunder fans don’t want to hear it) is not having Harden around to help finish games.
My examination of the Clippers needs more time, which is the one thing a true contender doesn’t have much of. The playoffs are on the horizon and the question remains … do you still believe in the Thunder and Clippers?