OKC Thunder: Success has been underpinned by playing ‘together’ | National Sports


The trade deadline comes and goes at 3 p.m. Thursday. The Thunder could be busy or not busy, sellers or buyers.

They could also stand still, and if maximizing this season is the idea, standing still is looking pretty good.

Over the last 33 games, Oklahoma City is 24-9, best in the Western Conference over the span and second only to Milwaukee in the entire NBA.

The Thunder have 33 games remaining, too, and were they to enjoy the same success they’ve enjoyed the last 33 over the next 33, they would finish the regular season 53-29.

That’s four more victories than last season, five more than the one before and six more than the one before that.

The Thunder last won 50 in 2015-16 when they claimed 55 and reached Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals leading Golden State 3-2, only to lose the next two and, soon thereafter, Kevin Durant to the Warriors, as well.

Should OKC stand pat and should it continue enjoying the success it has since beginning the season winning six of is first 17 games, it will do it with uncommon balance, underpinned by uncommon cohesion.

“Whether it’s been down big against Chicago and Memphis, or being down against Phoenix … or playing to hold a lead, I feel like we’re doing it together,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “And when you’re doing it together, I think what generally happens, more often than not, that’s the way you get positive results.”

Twenty-seven NBA players average at least 20 points per game, yet none play for the Thunder. However, three Thunder players — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.4), Danilo Gallinari (19.2), Dennis Schroder (19.1) — are scoring at least 19 per game and two others — Chris Paul (17.1), Steven Adams (10.8) — are in double figures.

Eleven NBA players average 10 or more rebounds per game, yet none play for the Thunder. However, Steven Adams is close at 9.3 and four other players — Gilgeous-Alexander (6.2), Danilo Gallinari (5.7), Nerlens Noel (5.3), Paul (5.1) — are grabbing at least five.

None of the 13 NBA players averaging seven or more assists per game play for the Thunder, either, though four Thunder starters — Paul (6.6), Gilgeous-Alexander (3.2), Adams (2.6), Gallinari (2.3) — and one reserve, Schroder (4.1), are dishing at least two per game.

“I think they’re unselfish,” Donovan said.

Almost universally, Oklahoma City’s understood to be the surprise team in the league, overachieving at a rate that can be statistically tracked any number of ways.

Here are three:

• Since Nov. 29, the span in which OKC has gone 24-9, seven teams have better net ratings than the Thunder’s 4.5 — meaning OKC scores 4.5 more points per 100 possessions than its opponent — yet only Milwaukee (.871) has a better winning percentage than OKC (.774).

• The Thunder are 13-8 in games decided by six or fewer points, and since a 94-93 Dec. 11 loss at Sacramento, they’re 9-0.

• In crunch time — possessions occurring the last five minutes when the teams are separated by five for fewer points — the Thunder carry a league-best net rating of 26.3.

Before the season began, Paul said he expected the Thunder to win. Monday he was asked what he saw that made him think that.

“That I was here,” he said.

He was also asked if the Thunder, as a group, get along particularly good for an NBA team.

“I think so, I think so,” he said. “Partly because everything is probably by committee. I think our coaches do a great job of engaging. We’ve just got a really great group of guys.

The Thunder have also continued to win despite losing many players to injury or personal reasons for spells lasting one game to several.

“Everybody’s working on their stuff each and every day, coming in here trying to get better,” Schroder said after practice Tuesday. “And everybody’s ready. When their name is called, they’re ready to go to war.”

Oklahoma City should not be thin tonight. Terrance Ferguson is back from the personal reasons that extended his absence to the last eight games.

Other players to have missed time recently — Gallinari, Adams, Noel, Abdel Nader — should all be ready to go when the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers visit Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight.

The Thunder will be gunning for a third straight win and their eighth in nine games.

They’ll try to do it the way they’ve been doing it.

“I really believe this,” Donovan said. “The best teams to me are the most connected and most together teams and I think this team is together.

“I think they try to lift each other up. I think the play for one another. I think they play to each other’s strengths.”

So far, so good.


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