The Oklahoma City Thunder would be forgiven for stumbling to close the month of January. They played a packed schedule that included five back-to-backs and 17 games, by rule the most games a team can ever play in a single month. Their players were tired, the schedule had lined up a couple of Western Conference powers, and they were missing multiple rotation players to injury.
Instead, the Thunder went toe-to-toe with the Minnesota Timberwolves in a close loss, then turned around and beat the Denver Nuggets. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has continued to be one of the two or three best players in the league this season, but players like Cason Wallace and Kenrich Williams continue to step up and perform for the Thunder.
The weekend saw the Thunder host the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors, and while the latter game took some herculean effort (more on that later) they notched a pair of wins to ascend to 35-15, the second-best record in the entire league.
That sets the stage for this week, one where the NBA Trade Deadline is quickly approaching and the teams around the Thunder will be loading up for the stretch run. What's new with OKC, and what awaits them? We'll dig into that and more in this week's edition of Thunder News!
Thunder atop the Western Conference
The Oklahoma City Thunder now sit atop the Western Conference standings with their 35-15 record, tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers are both within a game, creating an impossibly tight race at the top. Last season the Nuggets coasted to the finish because of their lead for the top seed; this season there will not be any coasting.
The Thunder are the massive surprise of the group, of course, and even more so since their +8.0 net rating is the best in the West, 1.5 points above the Clippers. Oklahoma City has the league's fifth-best offense and sixth-best defense, providing the balance necessary for playoff success. Everything suggests that the Thunder are for real despite their youth. Will that play out during the stretch run?