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Thunder Return From Road Trip With Lesson Learned, Improvements To Make

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

The toughest month to date of the Oklahoma City Thunder's season is over, and in all honesty, the Thunder handled it quite well.

Eleven of the Thunder's 16 games were on the road and OKC went 7-4 in those games—only one of those four losses inexcusable (at Washington on Jan. 7). Any time you go on the road, you can expect a tough game, and when you're as good as the Thunder are, you can expect everyone's best effort every night.

Coming into this month, the Thunder were second in the West and the NBA behind the Clippers with a 24-6 record, but the majority of those games were against the lower tier of the NBA. January posed a new threat, with half of the Thunder's 16 games against teams with .500 records at the time OKC played them.

As of now, the Thunder sits 10-5 for the month with a final game Thursday night against Memphis at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Three of those losses came on OKC's most recent road trip, a six-game march against all of the California teams, plus Dallas and Denver.

Losing in overtime to the Nuggets—who have shook off an early season slump—and in the final minutes against Golden State are anything but bad losses. Heck, even losing to a desperate Lakers team in the last game of the road trip isn't the worst thing in the world.

The important thing is, the Thunder kept themselves in contention for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs—and gained an important tiebreaker with a 109-97 win over the Clippers. Kevin Durant was phenomenal during the month, averaging 35.5 points per game during the six-game road trip, and 34.5 points per road game overall.

While Russell Westbrook had some struggles on the big road trip—shooting just 37 percent from the field—he had his best month of the season, shooting 44.4 percent overall.

Ultimately, Oklahoma City did nothing to hinder itself going forward, but a couple worrisome things did pop up.

The Thunder's inability to close out the Warriors on Jan. 23 was puzzling to say the least. Oklahoma City went into that game undefeated when leading after three quarters, led 79-76 after the third, and even held an eight-point lead with seven minutes remaining. The Thunder got no offensive output from anyone other than Durant, except for two free throws from Westbrook and a put back by Kendrick Perkins.

Durant is the second-best player on the planet, but the Thunder need to have a better plan down the stretch of close games than a litany of Durant isolation plays.

The other concerning thing was the Thunder's defensive performance. During the most recent road trip, the Thunder allowed 106.6 points per game and 46.6 percent shooting. Those aren't the numbers you'd like to see an opponent getting, even if your offense is one of the most efficient in NBA history.

Granted, two of those games were overtime games, but those are still numbers the Thunder doesn't want to see on the box score at the end of a game. It's a slight setback, since OKC had been doing very well on defense this season, a key to their overall improvement as a team. No doubt the Thunder will want to improve on that as the season goes along.

This month helped legitimize the Thunder as the best overall team in the NBA, but there is still work to be done if Oklahoma City wants to be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy come June. There aren't any major flaws the Thunder has to correct, but the great teams make it a point to focus on the little things.

Knowing the Thunder's hunger to win, there should be no doubt OKC will make it a point to correct all the problems the past month presented and be a better team because of it.

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