Finish line in sight on this bumpy Thunder road

Finish line in sight on this bumpy Thunder road

SAN ANTONIO — It was a month made in schedule hell, with back-to-backs, three games in four nights, thousands of miles of travel, only three games at home and, worst of all, almost all games against really good teams.

But even with one game to go — at the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday — the Oklahoma City Thunder have survived January. They sit 7-7 for the month, and at 28-20 overall, are sixth in the Western Conference. Russell Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double, and his MVP candidacy is alive and well. Regardless of which way the final game of the month goes, the Thunder have held their heads up and built positive momentum going into February, which features nine of 11 games at home.

“I think we did OK,” Westbrook said. “We gave away some games, but now we’ve got to finish it off in San Antonio.”

Not that January didn’t carry its collateral damage. Start with Enes Kanter, who broke his arm losing a fight with a chair in last week’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Those close to Kanter were stunned by the Turkish center’s outburst, citing his typically calm demeanor and good-natured outlook. There was some suggestion Kanter’s lapse in judgment may have been tied to the Thunder’s brutal schedule, with thousands of miles traveled, the lack of rest and constant mental grind of playing on the road.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School who has worked with a number of NBA teams, made note of the connection between emotional eruptions and sleep deprivation in a 2013 Boston Globe article by Baxter Holmes, who is now with ESPN.com.

One bullet point is disturbingly applicable to Kanter’s situation: “Lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain that control emotional reaction and judgment. As such, Czeisler said, sleep-deprived players are much more likely to lose control of their temper and respond emotionally if, say, they don’t like an officiating decision.”

The Thunder had multiple instances in January of getting into a city late, such as when they were caught in traffic on the interstate after arriving in Houston at 3 a.m. (with a game that night against the Rockets) or when they didn’t land back in OKC until 5 a.m. from San Francisco. In Kanter’s case, he was just mad at himself after a couple of turnovers. And in explaining it, made note of the fact the game was on the second night of a back-to-back — as well as the third game in four nights.

“It was just frustration because I know this team, my teammates, all my coaches, these fans, the whole organization trusts in me and I was trying to not make any mistakes during the game,” Kanter said. “Especially, it was a back-to-back game and then, like, I turned the ball over a few times and then I felt like really bad and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m letting my team down.’ And then I came to the bench. I was frustrated because I felt like I was letting everybody down and I was pretty frustrated and I hit my arm.”

The Thunder will feel the fallout from Kanter’s tantrum for at least a month, maybe two. It could have implications on their playoff seeding as well as Westbrook’s triple-double chase and MVP campaign. But Westbrook is conditioned to endure, as he did when Victor Oladipo missed nine games and Steven Adams a handful amidst the heat of January’s schedule.

The Thunder didn’t enter January out to prove validation of contending this season. Games against the elites went as expected, with the Thunder losing by an average of 19 to the Warriors and Cavs. It was obvious — despite Westbrook’s unshakable confidence — the Thunder aren’t in the class of those teams anymore. They’re in the reconfiguration stage, sorting through the season on the back of Westbrook’s ball-dominant brilliance as a young roster quietly evolves. They’re trying to recover and rebuild, and while close road losses didn’t expedite that in any regard, it did offer a glimpse of a foundation already in place.

What OKC coach Billy Donovan fears, though, is the Thunder relaxing. There was much made around the team, both internally and externally, about the rough schedule and the test it would provide. The Thunder are basically through it, heads above water, but in Donovan’s mind that type of mindset is dangerous.

“I look at it totally different. And to be honest with you, I’m concerned about that,” he said. “I think there’s been a narrative about ‘the month,’ but we have a season. We have 82 games. We’re gonna play them. And I get that the way the schedule was structured, that a lot of these games were on the road, but the last thing I want our team to do moving into February is take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, we got through this.'”

The Thunder play nine of 11 at home in February, but that includes Kevin Durant‘s return to OKC and an excruciatingly uncomfortable All-Star Weekend that could put Westbrook on the floor with four Warriors. So Donovan probably doesn’t have to worry much about anyone taking a deep breath. Because everyone’s going to be holding it already.

(Why?)

Published at Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:00:06 +0000

Finish line in sight on this bumpy Thunder road

SAN ANTONIO — It was a month made in schedule hell, with back-to-backs, three games in four nights, thousands of miles of travel, only three games at home and, worst of all, almost all games against really good teams.

But even with one game to go — at the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday — the Oklahoma City Thunder have survived January. They sit 7-7 for the month, and at 28-20 overall, are sixth in the Western Conference. Russell Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double, and his MVP candidacy is alive and well. Regardless of which way the final game of the month goes, the Thunder have held their heads up and built positive momentum going into February, which features nine of 11 games at home.

“I think we did OK,” Westbrook said. “We gave away some games, but now we’ve got to finish it off in San Antonio.”

Not that January didn’t carry its collateral damage. Start with Enes Kanter, who broke his arm losing a fight with a chair in last week’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Those close to Kanter were stunned by the Turkish center’s outburst, citing his typically calm demeanor and good-natured outlook. There was some suggestion Kanter’s lapse in judgment may have been tied to the Thunder’s brutal schedule, with thousands of miles traveled, the lack of rest and constant mental grind of playing on the road.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School who has worked with a number of NBA teams, made note of the connection between emotional eruptions and sleep deprivation in a 2013 Boston Globe article by Baxter Holmes, who is now with ESPN.com.

One bullet point is disturbingly applicable to Kanter’s situation: “Lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain that control emotional reaction and judgment. As such, Czeisler said, sleep-deprived players are much more likely to lose control of their temper and respond emotionally if, say, they don’t like an officiating decision.”

The Thunder had multiple instances in January of getting into a city late, such as when they were caught in traffic on the interstate after arriving in Houston at 3 a.m. (with a game that night against the Rockets) or when they didn’t land back in OKC until 5 a.m. from San Francisco. In Kanter’s case, he was just mad at himself after a couple of turnovers. And in explaining it, made note of the fact the game was on the second night of a back-to-back — as well as the third game in four nights.

“It was just frustration because I know this team, my teammates, all my coaches, these fans, the whole organization trusts in me and I was trying to not make any mistakes during the game,” Kanter said. “Especially, it was a back-to-back game and then, like, I turned the ball over a few times and then I felt like really bad and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m letting my team down.’ And then I came to the bench. I was frustrated because I felt like I was letting everybody down and I was pretty frustrated and I hit my arm.”

The Thunder will feel the fallout from Kanter’s tantrum for at least a month, maybe two. It could have implications on their playoff seeding as well as Westbrook’s triple-double chase and MVP campaign. But Westbrook is conditioned to endure, as he did when Victor Oladipo missed nine games and Steven Adams a handful amidst the heat of January’s schedule.

The Thunder didn’t enter January out to prove validation of contending this season. Games against the elites went as expected, with the Thunder losing by an average of 19 to the Warriors and Cavs. It was obvious — despite Westbrook’s unshakable confidence — the Thunder aren’t in the class of those teams anymore. They’re in the reconfiguration stage, sorting through the season on the back of Westbrook’s ball-dominant brilliance as a young roster quietly evolves. They’re trying to recover and rebuild, and while close road losses didn’t expedite that in any regard, it did offer a glimpse of a foundation already in place.

What OKC coach Billy Donovan fears, though, is the Thunder relaxing. There was much made around the team, both internally and externally, about the rough schedule and the test it would provide. The Thunder are basically through it, heads above water, but in Donovan’s mind that type of mindset is dangerous.

“I look at it totally different. And to be honest with you, I’m concerned about that,” he said. “I think there’s been a narrative about ‘the month,’ but we have a season. We have 82 games. We’re gonna play them. And I get that the way the schedule was structured, that a lot of these games were on the road, but the last thing I want our team to do moving into February is take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, we got through this.'”

The Thunder play nine of 11 at home in February, but that includes Kevin Durant‘s return to OKC and an excruciatingly uncomfortable All-Star Weekend that could put Westbrook on the floor with four Warriors. So Donovan probably doesn’t have to worry much about anyone taking a deep breath. Because everyone’s going to be holding it already.

(Why?)

Published at Tue, 31 Jan 2017 13:00:06 +0000