The OKC Thunder have passed a lot of tests, now another is in front of them

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder are off to a hot start in regard to their expectation level, sitting at 22-24, flirting with a spot in the NBA Play-In tournament and a game and a half out of avoiding the NBA play-in tournament altogether by claiming the 6th seed. Not many thought the OKC Thunder would be in position at the halfway point to contend for a playoff spot, but the Thunder have passed a lot of tests.

At each passing game, the OKC Thunder fanbase, media, and neutral observers sat and watched the Thunder pass every test put in front of them. Despite all of us waiting for the other shoe to drop, so far, Oklahoma City has had all the answers. However, the tests are far from over. The Thunder will be placed in front of continuous benchmarks all season.

So far, the OKC Thunder have passed every test presented to them, but the benchmarks are still coming for the youngest team in the NBA

The Oklahoma City Thunder just saw their four-game winning streak snapped by the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento.  Despite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander going for 37 points, Josh Giddey making a huge positive impact as he has since December 1st, and Lu Dort continuing his hot shooting stretch, the OKC Thunder fell on the road to a really good Kings team, 118-113.

There are plenty of lessons to learn for Oklahoma City from that game. The OKC Thunder turned the ball over too much, missed too many quality looks, and did not have an answer for Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray down low. When it all comes out in the wash, OKC earned valuable experience going up against the third-best team in the West.

After winning back-to-backs, road games, avoiding trap games, and knocking off three of the top four Eastern Conference teams all on the road, it seemed as though OKC was riding high and going to cruise into the play-in with the easiest schedule remaining in the NBA.

Now, fresh off one loss, a lot of fans are pulling back that optimism. The Thunder are the youngest team in the sport, the second youngest team of all time only ahead of last year’s Thunder squad, and typically young teams struggle to close out games.

However, losses are going to happen, the Thunder might even have more losses than wins over the next five games or heading into the All-Star break. But then the schedule opens up for them, and everything is right in front of them with countless trips out west and against their play-in competitors to attempt to beat them head to head. This loss to the Kings should not move you off your position one way or another.

Though, it does present another test for Oklahoma City.

The OKC Thunder have been a streaky team, which is common for young NBA teams, they have been part of six losing streaks, and six winning streaks, and have only followed up one loss with an immediate win four times this year.

How will Oklahoma City respond in this game on Sunday? Going into Denver, a tough place to play, and coming off a deflating loss that seemed clear every player on the roster wanted, and looking ahead to two off days?

Do they come out flat? Do they come out with their hair on fire trying to get back in the win column? With the Nuggets listing Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Bones Hyland as questionable, how does that alter the outcome of this game?

If OKC can nip this potential losing streak in the bud, the Thunder will return home to take on the Hawks, Cavs, and Warriors to close out the month before opening February with a two-game set against the Houston Rockets.

A win in Denver can truly propel the Thunder as they head back to OKC. They have been a much better home team than a road team this season and could get right back on track after a minor setback against the Kings.

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