If you've ever been skiing, you know that feeling when you begin to accelerate faster than you want to and realize that you're essentially unable to stop your downward momentum. It's pretty scary, actually.
The Thunder are on those skis right now and the bottom of the hill is nowhere in sight.
Oklahoma City has been downright awful since the All-Star break, and it feels like things are slipping away from the would-be contenders. The Thunder are 4-8 since the break with losses to teams like Minnesota and New Orleans. When the offense plays well, the defense fails. When the defense plays well, as it did on Saturday in San Antonio when OKC held the Spurs to 93 points, the offense fails.
The franchise has certainly dealt with a lot lately. Dion's Waiters' brother's death, Aubrey McClendon's death, Monty Williams' wife's death, Mo Cheeks' surgery. It's impossible to quantify how much these events have impacted the Thunder's on-court play, but it also seems unlikely that it's all just coincidence.
As for the here-and-now, Oklahoma City gets another shot to stop the slide on Monday when the Blazers roll into town. Portland has won 20 of its past 28 games and has quietly formed one of the NBA's top backcourts with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
These two teams last met back on Jan. 11 in Portland. The Blazers drained 19 3-pointers in a 115-110 win, which actually sparked their season turnaround.
Monday's tilt could also be a first-round playoff preview. OKC (44-22) is nestled into the No. 3 spot, one game ahead of the Clippers. The Blazers (35-32) currently occupy the No. 6 seed, which, according to advanced math, would match them up against the Thunder in the opening round.
The way these two teams have been trending, OKC probably wants nothing to do with Portland come playoff time. The depleted Grizzlies or the laughable Rockets would provide much more favorable matchups. But if the Thunder can't begin to slow their downward momentum, it won't really matter in the long run.