Oklahoma City Thunder Should Not Be in Panic Mode, Yet

Jared Porter@@JaredPorter_BRCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 07:  Scott Brooks, Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder meets with players during a break in play against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on January 07, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder at full strength are clear-cut title contenders. But the Oklahoma City Thunder without, say, Russell Westbrook lowers their status to mediocre. 

Far from yesterday's news, I know. 

The Thunder have gone 5-5 since Westbrook underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a day after putting up a triple-double against the New York Knicks on Christmas day. 

The record speaks for itself, but one would have to actually see the games to understand how average the Thunder look without their All-Star point guard. They're flat, stagnant, lack an offensive identity and rely too much on a guy named Kevin Durant

And it's not like the Thunder have played stiff competition since they lost Westbrook, as Berry Tramel on NewsOK.com points out: 

Of the 10 post-Westbrook games, only two came against elite teams, Houston and Portland. Four games against the great unwashed of the Eastern Conference (Charlotte, Brooklyn, Boston, Milwaukee), which is where the Thunder got three of its victories. Three games were against so-so West teams (Minnesota, Denver, Memphis), and one game was against a West bottom-feeder (Utah).

And those are mostly bad defensive teams. Of the 10 games the Thunder has played without Westbrook, only one (Charlotte) came against a top-10 defense. Four came against bottom-10 defenses (Portland, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Utah).

Ouch. What happens when the Thunder has to play San Antonio and Golden State and the like?

Not only has the Thunder's level of play dropped since Westbrook's absence, but their standing in the Western Conference has dropped as well, falling from first place to third after 10 games. 

Now comes the question that is on every Thunder fan's and follower's mind: Is it time for the Thunder to panic?

Well, "panic" might not be the appropriate word, but "concern" is certainly suitable according to Royce Young on DailyThunder.com:

Look, I’m anti-panic right now. Because what’s there to really worry about, other than dropping games and missing out on a top one or two seed? Assuming Westbrook’s health is intact, when he returns, the Thunder will straighten out. Yes, it’s a concern that they haven’t learned from any of their mistakes and yes, why aren’t they better than they were in May after having all this time to figure things out?

If Westbrook makes his comeback in the first game after the All-Star break—which is the Thunder's given timetable for him—then that means the Thunder will play 17 more games without him, including tough matchups with the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat

And if the Thunder continue their trend of so-so play without Westbrook, then the possibility for a nosedive in the Western standings could be very real. 

Russell Westbrook posts triple-double performance one day before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
Russell Westbrook posts triple-double performance one day before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Thunder will have a huge sigh of relief once they get a healthy Westbrook back on the floor. Once he is back, the Thunder can certainly make up some ground in the standings. 

The West this season is continuing its reputation of having tough teams, but at the same time, there isn't a clear front-runner.

The Spurs hold the No. 1 spot at the moment, but they have trouble defeating elite teams. The Trail Blazers are at No. 2, but they have struggled as of late, losing four of their past eight. 

And then there's the Thunder sitting at No. 3; a team that looked like world-beaters until suffering the loss of Westbrook. 

The Thunder are more than likely going to suffer the loss of home-court advantage in the playoffs, and let's face it, home-court advantage would be nice to have in such a great conference. 

However, going into the playoffs without home-court advantage would not be an end-all for the Thunder. Like I said earlier, there isn't a clear-cut front-runner right now, and the Thunder would be more than capable of stealing one or two games on the road come the postseason with a healthy Westbrook running point. 

It's extremely apparent that the Thunder are a much better team with Westbrook on the floor. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game. It's an obstacle the Thunder will have to overcome in order to reach the ultimate goal of becoming NBA champions. 

Until the return of Westbrook, the Thunder will have to battle mediocrity. It's tempting to claim the Thunder should be in panic mode, but that would be wrong.

After all, there's a pretty good chance we'll see the Thunder at full strength during the playoffs and making a title run. By then, we may forget entirely about the less-than-stellar stretch the Thunder are currently on. 

Follow @JaredPorter_BR on Twitter for more Thunder news and analysis. 


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