Oklahoma City Thunder: Is This What Winning Feels Like?
Grant Belcher, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – Here's a scary thought for the rest of the NBA.
Anyone who has watched the Thunder play knows they have glaring weaknesses, piling-up injuries and a general feeling of hanging by a thread at times.
And they still manage to seesaw with the Heat and the Bulls for the best record in the NBA.
It's hard to imagine that just three years ago, the Thunder were considered the worst team in the league for the first half of the season.
But it's also hard to figure out if this is what being on top is supposed to feel like.
Did Kobe and Shaq's early 2000s Los Angeles teams ever feel like they weren't playing up to their full potential? Did Tim Duncan and the Spurs limp their way through serious flaws and injuries to four NBA championships?
It simply feels like there is some sort of endowed stability or phenomenal streak of good health that has to happen in order for a team to be considered championship-caliber.
But maybe it's just the opposite.
Maybe a championship team has just as obvious flaws as any other team, but their strengths are so incredible that they don't even care.
Maybe a championship-caliber team is one whose roster is so deep that even its no-name players can step in and handle the load when it feels like they should be just buying time.
When Eric Maynor went down and out for the season, most people said it was a serious blow to OKC's season goals. When Thabo Sefolosha started missing games a month ago, Thunder fans began hoping the team could manage at least a serviceable record until his defensive impact returned.
Now Kendrick Perkins, James Harden and Nick Collison have all had injuries of their own.
And yet Oklahoma City continues to hold its grip on the top spot in the West, even in the midst of the second-place Spurs having won 11 straight.
That's why it's a bit scary for other franchises to think of what the Thunder are capable of, both this year and over the next few.
Not only will injured players eventually come back, but OKC has played the fourth-most road games in the NBA so far this season. The Thunder also sport the best home record in the NBA. Put those two together and you get "more home games coming plus best home record equals more wins."
Tune into a Thunder game midway through the second quarter and you might see a lineup of Reggie Jackson, Royal Ivey, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Nazr Mohammed on the court.
NBA fans who didn't know any better might think they have accidentally tuned into a D-League game. Even diehard Thunder fans would never have been able to guess that particular combination of players before the season.
That's not to say OKC's deep bench can hang with other teams' starters or anything.
But once again, it all comes back to the Thunder sitting as the class of the Western Conference on top of the standings, despite their flaws.
So it's only natural to worry about stats such as the Thunder's turnover rate (last in the league), assist total (27th) or field goal attempts margin (last).
Just keep in mind that they also continue to be at the top of the league in the stat that matters the most: wins.