Thunder still dominate the Northwest DivisionBy David A.
The strongest teams in the NBA are in the Western Conference and out west, the Northwest Division has three teams in playoff contention. The league’s second half of the regular season opens tonight following the four-day layoff for the All Star break.
The Northwest division is led by the Oklahoma City Thunder with a record of 39-14 and a 6 ½ game lead over the second place Denver Nuggets and 9 ½ over the third place Utah Jazz. The Thunder lost two straight games heading into the All Star break but prior to that had won 6 of 8 and are currently ranked third in the league’s power rankings behind only San Antonio and Miami. Denver lost three straight games prior to the break for the All Star Game, but had won 9 straight prior to that.
The NBA season is heading down the home stretch and teams need to secure themselves the best possible seeding for the playoffs. The Thunder stumbled headed to the break and must now right the ship nevertheless, the Thunder is the cream of the crop in the division.
The Thunder is just 8-6 over their last 14 games, giving up an average of 101 points in those same 14 games. During that stretch, nine of the games were on the road, and the Thunder allowed over 103 points on average on those nine games. That is concerning since Oklahoma City will play 15 of its final 29 regular season games on the road and most of them will be against teams vying for the playoffs.
No one is certain exactly what happened to the Thunder leading up to the break for the All Star Game, but a large number of games on the road and playing against the top tier teams in the league contributed to their mediocre record of 8-6.
Nevertheless, the Thunder still owns the second best overall record in the NBA and is on pace to win 60 games this season, which would be the first time for the franchise, since it moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
With the likes of Kevin Durant, who is averaging a league high 29.2 points per game and Russell Westbrook the offense for the Thunder is overpowering.
Defensively, the team has been in the top 10 for most of this season and is currently holding opponents to 43% shooting.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Thunder has played well following the break for the All Star Game. In the three seasons since Durant played in his first All Star Game, the Thunder has a record of 60-31 following the break. In each of those three seasons, the Thunder has won 20 games down the stretch.
The statistics for both Durant and teammate Westbrook have not fallen off during the second half of the season like happens with many players in the NBA.
With the team, knowing its two top players will continue contributing down the stretch, the players can refocus on team defense and its roles players can step up when their time comes.
With 29 regular season games left, the Thunder has something to prove to the Western Conference and the rest of the NBA in their attempt to get back to the NBA finals.