It’s been a weird season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Preseason speculation had them atop of the league, fighting for a second Western Conference title and their first NBA championship. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant’s foot injury — a Jones fracture — cast doubt on those hopes, but by no means dashed them. When Russell Westbrook left the team’s first game of the season with a hand injury, things got even dimmer.
Next came injuries to Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb. The “Zombie Thunder” have been a collection of overstretched players; basketball journeymen thrust into roles they couldn’t have possibly imagined a 59-win team would’ve handed them. Kendrick Perkins has been asked to score — yikes — in an offense regularly led by Sebastian Telfair, a point guard who wasn’t even in the league last season.
Now 3-12, the Thunder have the worst record in their conference. Only the comically bad, winless Philadelphia 76ers are at a lower spot in the standings. The Thunder have dug themselves quite a hole to get out of.
Good thing the cavalry’s on the way, then. According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, the Thunder’s dual superstars are now participating in the majority of team practices. Westbrook could return as soon as Friday, when OKC hosts the New York Knicks. “They looked good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said when asked about Durant and Westbrook. “But no more than that. They’re going to continue to go through this process, and when they’re ready, 100 percent ready, they will play. But until then, nothing else we know of.”
At the end of the day, the berserk Western Conference is arguably no easier or more difficult for a team whether their postseason berth comes with a No. 1 seed or a No. 8 seed. Every matchup is tough. And the Thunder, lucky them, are talented enough to beat any team in a seven-game series (home court or not) if they’re healthy. The challenge now is for them to play nearly perfect basketball for four months, just to get to those playoffs.
— John Wilmes