The Oklahoma City Thunder are 6-3 through the first three weeks of the regular season. They haven't dazzled, haven't impressed and certainly haven't started the way they would have liked.
But still, the Thunder are not in bad shape. They've beaten the teams they're supposed to, which is always a positive.
With the return of Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are beginning to look like the team that has been an NBA title contender the past few years. Serge Ibaka is starting to look like an All-Star ballot-type player, and Kevin Durant is, well, being Kevin Durant.
On the other hand, the Thunder have lost three games to a few of the league's best teams in the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. Albeit, the losses all came on the road, and the Thunder were the underdogs in those games.
Here's some glass-half-full facts on you real quick regarding OKC's 5-0 record against "bad" teams and 0-3 mark against "good" teams.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 15, 2013
Of the three, one was w/o Westbrook, one was after a bogus ejection and one was at the buzzer. And all three were on the road!— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 15, 2013
The past week has been a tough one for the Thunder. Their three-game road trip ended with a couple blemishes on their record. Even though the Thunder didn't necessarily play badly in any of those games, they showed difficulty coming out victorious against elite teams.
This seems to be a recurring thing for the Thunder. Last season, they had problems with good teams. Sure, it is true that most teams have difficulty playing tougher competition, but expectations for this Thunder team are different. They are expected to win, and that's exactly what they will have to do if they are to reach the ultimate goal of becoming NBA champions.
Royce Young on DailyThunder.com noted the struggles the Thunder have had with some of the league's elite teams and how the upcoming six-game homestand might reveal the true colors of this team.
Last season, a little trend built that the Thunder had issues beating the NBA’s top level contenders, but for the most part that didn’t have any real impact on their postseason chances. But with a six-game homestand coming, with four against really good teams, and three of them against the teams that have beaten them, we should have an opportunity to learn a lot about this team in the next two weeks.
As Young noted, the next six games for the Thunder will all be at home, and four of those games will be against pretty stiff competition: the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Thunder will get the opportunity to avenge all three of their losses thus far in the season. If they do so, it will have Thunder Nation feeling a lot better about the direction of this team.
To put it simply, it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Thunder to come out of the next six-game stretch 6-0. The Thunder seem to be on the verge of getting things going. If you take away Ibaka's ejection against the Clippers and Andre Iguodala's insane game-winner for the Warriors, then the Thunder could easily be 8-1 at this point.
All nitpicking aside, it is early in the season. The Thunder have a great opportunity to get things going in the right direction on their home court the next several games.
There have been plenty of positives in the early season for this team: The offensive surge from Ibaka, Steven Adams' surprising contribution, Jeremy Lamb doing his part in helping the Thunder's offense and Reggie Jackson's ability to take over in stretches.
But once the Thunder can put it all together, they will undoubtedly be one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference. As the year goes on, younger players will develop and complement the Thunder's dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
It is fairly common to magnify a tough six-game stretch in the course of an 82-game season. And sure, it's still very early in the season, but if anything, the Thunder will get a good measurement of how they stack up with some of the best teams in the league in the next couple of weeks.
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