First Half Record: 31-10 (3rd Western Conference)
Points For: 105.3ppg
Point Against: 98.1ppg
With a solid win over the Sacramento Kings at Chesapeake Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder moved to a 31-10 record at the halfway point of the 2013-14 NBA season. So what better time than now to review the first half of the Thunder’s season and look at what we can expect from the second half!
It has been a mixed bag throughout the first half of the season for the Thunder. They knew they would be without Russell Westbrook for the start of the season and we busy making the necessary adjustments when he made a surprise return just two games into the season. It looked to be a much needed return as the Thunder looked pretty poor in the first couple of outings, narrowly getting past the Utah Jazz (requiring 42 points from Kevin Durant in the season opener) and then a nasty 19 point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Once Westbrook returned, the Thunder looked like a powerhouse again. Although Russ would be a little rusty, he gave the Thunder a more complete look – and a very formidable offense. They went on a tear winning all but 4 of their next 26 games up until Christmas Day. In that run, they handed the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers losses, showing that they were the real deal this season. A narrow loss to the super impressive Portland Trailblazers, a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in a game where Serge Ibaka was ejected, a loss on an Andre Iguodala buzzer beater against the Golden State Warriors and an unusual loss at home against the Toronto Raptors were the only blemishes on the Oklahoma City Thunder record during a terrific span of games that had them leading the Western Conference at various points.
It looked like the Thunder were rolling all the way to the top of the table with a new look lineup, a deeper than ever before bench and improvement from Serge Ibaka and franchise star Kevin Durant. Then Russ experienced some swelling in his knee and had to undergo another arthroscopic surgery.
Since Westbrook’s most recent derailment, the Thunder have gone 8-5 and have looked a little shaky at times. Kevin Durant has been on an absolute rampage as he looks to not only keep the Thunder competitive, but secure another scoring title and perhaps his first Most Valuable Player award. The silver lining however, is that even with Westbrook missing 15 games and counting, the Thunder are finding ways to win.
Reggie Jackson is creating a very solid resume, building on the opportunity presented to him in the playoffs last season. Although he is not quite as talented as Westbrook, he is creating havoc on both ends of the floor and improving every time he plays. The Thunder are actually better defensively with Jackson in the lineup because of his ability to fight over the top of screens and because he plays a “safer” brand of defense, preferring to guard the player and the ball rather than keep his eyes peeled on the passing lanes. These additional minutes are going to really pay off when the Thunder get back to the playoffs and Jackson resumes his 6th man role.
Jeremy Lamb is another who has really come on in leaps and bounds this season. As part of the Thunder bench, he has been producing across all categories while also getting used to the pace of the NBA game. He has posted career games and has alleviated some of the offensive reliance on Durant. He still has some way to go before he is an elite player, but the signs are there and he is an elite talent. Once he develops that consistency required – look out.
The most interesting development has been with Serge Ibaka. He has in the past relied heavily on Russell Westbrook to be effective on the offensive end, but he has adapted and is now a reliable option alongside Durant. The Thunder have done well putting him in the high pick and roll with Durant and allowing Ibaka to show of his mid range jumpshot. This new found tactic has paid off as Ibaka has posted a handful of games over the 20 point mark, complimenting Durant’s offensive onslaught perfectly.
Perry Jones, Steve Adams, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher have all been playing serviceable roles for the Thunder over the latest non-Westbrook period. The chemistry these guys are developing off the bench can only benefit the Thunder in the long run and the post season.
While it has been an interesting and tumultuous start to the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder must be extremely happy with where they are placed. 3rd overall in the Western Conference and just a game behind Portland and San Antonio and on pace for another 60 win season – with an All Star point guard to incorporate back into the lineup after the All Star break. It hasn’t been straightforward, but it has been entertaining and we look forward to what the second half of the season brings, starting with a rematch against Western Conference leaders the Portland Trailblazers.