Danger rears its head for OKC, Indy

VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about the concerns facing some of the league’s elite teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That small market NBA Finals you were daydreaming about is in jeopardy based on what we’ve seen from the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Portland Trail Blazers recently.

Early-season visions of say the Pacers and Thunder squaring off in The Finals and restoring the faith of the fans in the hinterlands have faded since before All-Star weekend.

The Pacers’ struggles are real. You don’t lose four straight games, and five of your last 10, and allow 106 points in your past four games and maintain your aura as the defensive juggernaut that we assumed you were based on your work up until now. No matter how much coach Frank Vogel insists that his team is capable of navigating these bumps in the road, we have no idea how they will recover from this stretch because they’ve never been in this position before.

The Thunder’s issues are tangible as well. You don’t lose five of your past eight games, give up 121 points in consecutive games and get torched for 40-point games by the likes of Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks without two of your top defensive players (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) and expect us to just chalk it up to a temporary hiccup. Even if all that happens as Russell Westbrook is transitioning back into the mix after missing nine weeks recovering from knee surgery.

Contenders tend to show their teeth this time of year, embrace statement games and remind the competition that what they see now is merely a glimpse of the fury to come in the postseason. But these current struggles, particularly for the Pacers and Thunder, constitute a clear-and-present danger to their big-picture plans.

We are nit-picking at the highest level here, I understand that. But vetting championship contenders is a tedious, season-long process that requires us to examine each and every little tidbit of information gathered. While I don’t agree with the wilder sentiments like this one (of course, the Thunder aren’t trying to get Scott Brooks fired), I do think a contender’s February and March performance is a much better indicator of what’s to come in the playoffs than anything accomplished before then.

And the Pacers and Thunder, two teams that would appear to have as good a chance as any to unseat the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, have both shown signs of vulnerability in the past few days and weeks.

In addition to locating their defensive punch, the Pacers need Paul George to regain the form he showed earlier in the season, when he was being mentioned in the MVP conversation with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The playoffs are looming and a quality team like the Chicago Bulls will identify your weakness and attack it in a best-of-7 series … the same way the Pacers did to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last year.


VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vovel talks about Andrew Bynum maing his debut against the Celtics

The Thunder have to worry as much about getting their own house in order as they have to worry about the neighbors. The Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers all appear to be as up to the task of winning the Western Conference crown and representing their side in The Finals.

The Spurs have enough corporate knowledge to navigate these rough waters for a second straight season. The Rockets have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard, who have just as much experience in The Finals as Durant and Westbrook. And the Clippers, when healthy, have what is arguably the deepest and most balanced roster in the league with one of the game’s best button-pushers (coach Doc Rivers), especially at playoff time, leading their charge.

Momentary hiccups are one thing. All teams, even the great ones, deal with them at one time or another.

Cracks in the foundation, though, require more and immediate attention.

Time will tell which of these the Pacers and Thunder are dealing with …


  1. Ike_Wee_Knicks_Fan says:

    Durant, like Dirk, is just another tall, non-rebounding, non-defensive #2 guard.. It’s weird because, visually, we expect the bigger, taller players to block and rebound, but if they have endorsements, they be ballin’ so hard that they think that they Kobe.. aaahh.!

  2. okc2014 says:

    OKC have played excellent all season long. I think if these losses were more spread out, and if the timing wasn’t right when Russell Westbrook returned, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue. I’m not concerned anymore…

  3. dustydreamnz says:

    Yeah, a bit early to be panicking yet, if Indiana lose to Boston it might be time to jump off the cliff!
    Westbrook seems to have messed with OKC’s chemistry somehow, they haven’t been the same since he came back but it could be they’re missing Sefolosha too.

  4. Mark says:

    Have OKC really improved (outside of K.Durant) since losing the Finals to Miami? mmm not sure. The coaching has me scratching my head, just can’t figure S.Adams having any impact going forward now! & I thought the inside presence was going to tip them over!

  5. Russell Westbrook says:

    I’m back! We’re going to win it all!!!!!!!!

  6. John Toal says:

    The Thunder are one game off their best record ever in OKC and you’re saying this Sekou? Come on. As an OKC fan and ticket holder I am thrilled that we are in the position we are in currently since we have been without Russel for so long. We had one of our best records ever without Russell we are allowed one little slip. This team has actually been to the Finals in the past few years unlike the other small market teams you mentioned as contenders. Give the guys a break I am expecting a smashing of Houston tonight, Russell will make sure of this.

  7. the king is here says:


  8. E-SY says:

    Those teams deserve a deep push into the play-offs. They will bounce back from the temporary setback they have now…

    But it would be fantastic to see the Clippers win it all this year! Brilliant basketball!

  9. lino says:

    it’s a long season and maybe, just maybe, durant carried a heavy load for too long a period of time. since the break, each game is magnified in importance of playoff seeding. the load gets heavier. we’ll see how okc fares down the stretch and into the post season, but the spurs are in a groove and starting with tonite’s back-to-back, could very well place the rest of the west in chase mode.

  10. Witness says:

    5 to 10 games is a pretty decent sample size yes, but lets stop actin like we’re real close to hittin the panic button on these teams though please? Its not like they have all of a sudden fell from contender status to middle of the pack.