Who said 13 was an unlucky number?
That’s the magic number for this year’s Thunder squad. 13, as in 13 consecutive home victories to open the season. 13 ties a franchise record that was set back in the ’76-’77 season when the team was still the Seattle Supersonics. The next season saw the Sonics make an NBA Finals appearance. The following season, the Sonics brought an NBA Championship to Seattle.
Therefore, it makes sense that the Seattle residents were a more than a little miffed to hear that their NBA team was packing up and skipping town. Before that NBA Championship, the only professional sports championship Seattle had seen was when the Seattle Metropolitans won the 1917 Stanley Cup in the days of the PCHL, just before the NHL opened its inaugural season. Although since the move, Seattle’s MLS franchise, the Seattle Sounders FC have claimed three straight U.S. Open Cup Championships from ’09-’11.
It’s been five years since the Thunder came to town, and yet the days of the inaugural 23-59 OKC “Blunder” seem like a lifetime ago. The team has managed to improve their record every season since showing up in OKC. Again, they finished 23-59 in their first year, which was the only year they missed the playoffs since relocation.
The next year saw a drastic improvement of 27 wins, finishing with a 50-32 record. That postseason saw them push the Lakers to 6 games in the opening round before Pau Gasol’s last-second tip-in closed the door on what was considered, at the time, a miracle season. It’s funny, yet not all that surprising that the Thunder weren’t expected to match that production the following season, and yet they continued to improve.
The next season saw the Thunder claim their first Northwest Division Championship of the OKC era, and improve on the win total once again, finishing 55-27. The postseason featured a Western Conference Finals appearance against the Dallas Mavericks, but over-reliance on jump shooting had them ousted from the playoffs after 5 games. Although now even the NBA analysts themselves were noticing a trend: The Thunder just get better every year.
Although the following season didn’t feature as many victories in the regular season (47-19), it didn’t feature as many losses either, as they only played a total of 68 games in the strike-shortened NBA season. This postseason actually saw the Thunder capture the Western Conference Championship, but they ended up running into a Heat squad that had their number, and wound up ousted after 5 games. As the Thunder never seemed to regress, many felt that the NBA Championship was the next logical step last season.
It possibly could have been too, as the Thunder finished with a 60-22 record, and were heading into the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference. Then the Patrick Beverly collision with Russell Westbrook injured Westbrook’s knee. Although the Thunder were still able to make it out of the opening round without Westbrook, they ran into a Grizzlies squad that still remembered their conference semi-finals ousting at the hands of the Thunder in 7 games two seasons ago, and you could just tell they were itching to return the favor. Westbrook’s absence was too much to surmount, and the Grizzlies ended the Thunder’s championship hopes in 5 games.
This season seems like they’ve managed to improve yet again, despite the fact that there might not be much room for improvement left. They’ve shattered glass ceiling after glass ceiling to the point where the next ceiling they hit may not be a glass one. They may just end up on top, point blank. And for every other team in the league, that is a very scary thought to consider.
The Thunder move to 21-4 with their 107-95 win over the Bulls last night, while the Bulls drop to a dismal 9-16 in the absence of Derrick Rose.
Westbrook seems determined to prove his worth to the squad this season, as he posted a double-double of 20 points and 10 assists. Kevin Durant finished with 32 points, and Thabo Sefolosha managed double-digits last night, with 10 points. Reggie Jackson dropped 18 from the Thunder bench.
Joakim Noah is easily the Bulls’ best player in Rose’s absence. He notched the only other double-double of the night, with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Although five other Bulls players scored double-digits: D.J. Augustin dropped 15, Mike Dunleavy added 11, Carlos Boozer posted 10, and bench players Tony Snell and Taj Gibson combined for 26 off of the Bulls’ bench (Snell: 10, Gibson: 16).
Although I see a true test coming for the Thunder this Saturday. They travel to AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX to take on the Spurs. They took the first meeting of the season by a score of 94-88 back on Nov. 27th. That’s only a 6-point margin of victory, so we probably won’t be seeing starters sitting out of the 4th quarter in this contest. Gregg Popovich always gets his squad to play hard. Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.