What's something I've said about 200 times over the last month that you already know, but that's not going to stop me from saying it again? Anyone? The Thunder are getting better. The December 31 107-100 win over Golden State gave the team confidence. Last week's 122-120 heartbreaker either shattered that confidence or built it even more, telling the young team they can compete with anybody.
So as this season wears on, what are five NEW goals for the Thunder? Being 4-30, it's not crazy to say the team likely won't be able to meet the goals they set before the season started. I remember a Sporting News reporter asking Kevin Durant about the playoffs. That really funny now in a that's-not-so-funny-kind-of-way. But what can OKC set out to do the rest of the way? There's 48 games left. Since there's not a whole lot to play for other than to lose more and secure the most ping-pong balls, some new goals need to be set. Here's five suggestions:
1. Win six games in a month.
Is this possible? More than you think. It seems in the past few months any time something seemingly impossible comes up, my first (and typically only rebuttal) is, "Hey, you know the Tampa Bay Rays did go to the World Series." So.... you know the Tampa Bay Rays did go to the World Series. There's 14 games in January, 12 in February, 15 in March and eight in April. This month gives a few good opportunities with home games against the Knicks, New Jersey and Memphis, but in order to get it done, OKC would have to win road games at Minnesota, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Golden State. Granted, there's other opportunities in there -- but while the Thunder will surely surprise some contenders, we can't think they'll do it six times. The best month to do it? March. Not only is there 15 games (more chances) but OKC will have home games against Dallas, Washington, Philly and Chicago and winnable roadies at Sacramento, Minnesota and Toronto. Plus, throw electric home game atmospheres against the Lakers and San Antonio and there's good reason to think that may be possible.
2. Win three in a row.
The chance to check this one off may have come and gone. The win against the Warriors, then the shocker against Denver followed with tomorrow night's winnable game at home against the Knicks was probably the best opportunity OKC had. Because other than that, any two games against a below average, beatable opponents is linked with a game against a contender. And most of the Thunder's games against beatable opponents are on the road -- for instance, I'd love to go with a three game stint against Golden State, the Clippers and New Jersey, but two of those are on the road. There's really no three game home stand that has three winnable games, so the Thunder's going to have to win one on the road. My pick to do it: the last week of January. Two home games against New Jersey and Memphis and a road game in Utah. Obviously, winning in Utah will be near impossible but there's good chance the Jazz could come out asleep. They'll be coming off a game two night's earlier against San Antonio and then will have to immediately travel to Portland the next night for a big game against a fellow contender. I also liked the last week of March with home games against Washington and Dallas and a roadie at NOLA, but by that time Gilbert Arenas should be back and Dallas may be fighting for the playoffs.
3. Win every two of five at home and one of five on the road.
That would put OKC's record at 8-14 in Loud City and at 5-21 away from the Ford. Overall, the Thunder would be finishing with a 17-65 record overall, but with a 13-35 record in the final 48. Not bad considering the team has started 4-30.
4. Shock at least two title contenders.
The best nights to do it: Tuesday, February 24th at home against the Lakers and Tuesday, April 7th at home against the Spurs. The Lakers because that's the first time Kobe and the Lake show come to the Ford Center and the place with be crazy and that games against the Spurs because it's game three of a three game road stint with games at Indiana and Cleveland. Maybe San Antonio comes in flatter than the last fourth of a Diet Dr. Pepper.
5. Most importantly: Finish with more than nine wins.
It's simple. Don't finish with five, six, seven, eight or even nine wins total. Finish with MORE than that. You have to. You finish with 10 and people will dog you for a while, but no one will remember you. Finish with nine or fewer and you're part of history. But the kind of history that no one likes to remember. You know, the Spanish Inquisition, William Howard Taft's presidency, the 2008 Detroit Lions. You don't want to be in that side of the history book. Win 10. As Chauncey Billups said, this team isn't a 4-30 team. But they still need to get it done on the floor. I'm going to start printing shirts. Win 10.