Russell Westbrook made a layup with 3.3 seconds left and the Oklahoma City Thunder won their fifth straight, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 109-108. The win lifts the Thunder to fifth in the West, just 2.5 games out of hosting a playoff series.
2017-18 has been a hot and cold season for Oklahoma City. They have already had two winning streaks of five and six games, but have also lost two and three straight at times. What is happening in the wins? And how long can OKC extend this current streak?
The team’s constant is Russell Westbrook. Last year’s MVP has scored at least 20 points in 37 of 47 games. But surprisingly enough, they are 6-4 when he scores under 20, and 4-0 in the last four games in which he didn’t reach that mark. Westbrook actually averages more points in losses (26.0) than wins (24.9). It’s his assists that make the difference, rising from 8.7 in losses to 11.0 in victories.
Unsurprisingly, the key is other players stepping up. Paul George shocked the NBA last season when he chose Oklahoma City over Los Angeles or Cleveland. He has not disappointed since joining the Thunder. What’s more, his point total during the current streak is up to 22.4, a crucial 1.5 points higher than his season average. Not surprisingly, he is also averaging 22.5 points in wins compared to just 18.7 in losses.
Carmelo Anthony was the other big addition and has also been a key contributor, averaging 17.7 a game. He has also enjoyed a slight uptick in production to 18.6 during the current streak. However, he has averaged just 18.0 in wins, which is pretty similar to his 17.4 average in losses.
Finally, 2013 draft pick Steven Adams is enjoying a career year. His production is up two points from 11.3 to 13.7 and he’s grabbing one more rebound from 7.7 to 8.9. He has the biggest disparity between wins and losses scoring 15.6 points in victories versus just 11.4 in defeats. He has also increased his point production during the streak to 15.8 and has grabbed double figure rebounds in all five games.
After an MVP season in which Westbrook averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, no one expected him to reach that mark again. However, the point guard is right on the edge of another triple double clip at 24.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 10.0 assists. And his team is starting to improve on last year’s sixth place finish, currently sitting fifth in the West.
The additions of George and Anthony are huge upgrades over last season’s second and third players Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter. They lighten the load for Westbrook who at some point will have to slow down on his current pace. The Thunder have also proven that a team with multiple weapons is better than one with just the MVP. If they can continue to spread the ball around to all four of their double figure scorers, they should have no problem moving into the top four spots in the West.
But the season is barely halfway over and the Thunder cannot afford more streaky play. They were 28-19 at this point last year and a four-game losing streak in early March derailed their chances at hosting a playoff series.
The Thunder have an easier stretch coming up as they host Washington before a trip to struggling Detroit and a home game vs. Philadelphia. All three games are very winnable. If things go their way, the Thunder could play themselves into fourth place by the end of the month.
A home playoff game and an opportunity to advance and likely play the Warriors in the second round is there for the taking. The Thunder must seize the moment and continue to spread the ball around to avoid another crushing losing streak.
Featued Image Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr C.C. 2.0