It all started with a 108-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers last week, followed by a lopsided 110-88 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night and after Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th technical foul, suspending him for a game, the Thunder fell to the Miami Heat on Monday evening 116-107.
Things are unraveling for the Thunder at the absolute wrong time of the season. In the ever-so-tight race that is the Western Conference playoffs, the Thunder are searching for homecourt advantage paired with a matchup that best sets them up for the easiest road to the Western Conference Finals.
Well, while teams like Golden State, Denver, Houston, and San Antonio are peaking in the final stretch of the regular season, the Thunder are slumping and it’s not due to injuries.
There are many things that have gone wrong for the Thunder as of late. They’ve given up 111.3 points during this stretch. The defense that has sustained them all season is slipping as the rhythm on that end of the floor has been inconsistent at best since the all-star break. Some would say it’s been bad. After hitting on all cylinders before the all-star break and George MVP talks were circulating, the Thunder have taken a big step back to early season form. Offensively over this three-game stretch, OKC is averaging 100.3 points per game.
It’s become a well-known fact that the Thunder score their points and gain offensive momentum off of their defensive intensity. Forcing turnovers have been their motto all season and as of late, they haven’t been capitalizing on the turnovers they’ve gotten. On Monday night against the Heat, forcing turnovers were almost non-existent with Miami only turning the ball over eight times for the game.
Selfishness is also a small, but significant issue for the Thunder and it’s coming from the team’s leader, Russell Westbrook. March hasn’t been the best month for the former MVP and triple-double king of the NBA. First came the debacle in Utah that involved the fan, which was pretty justified on his behalf, but his play on primetime television in a statement game against OKC’s rivals, the Golden State Warriors was nothing short of an embarrassing moment for the Thunder.
His 2-of-16 shooting night was bad, but his inability to keep his emotions in check was where the embarrassment factor came in. His complete disregard of the consequences that came with him picking up his 16th technical foul of the season against the Golden State Warriors game is alarming. As the leader of a team fighting for playoff positioning with less than 15 games remaining, it was shocking to see Westbrook react as he did after not getting a foul call at a very insignificant juncture of the game.
Westbrook’s actions sidelined him for Monday’s game against another playoff team and threw off the rhythm that was mentioned earlier.
Westbrook will be back on the court on Wednesday night but with the (50-21) Toronto Raptors coming to the Chesapeake Energy Arena, it was essential for the Thunder to edge out a win against the Heat that are fighting for their playoff lives in the Eastern Conference with a sub-.500 record.
Now the Thunder will realistically face dropping their fourth-straight game in the most crucial stretch of the season.