Are Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder fooling themselves?
That’s what the 27-year-old superstar thought following his team’s performance last night, a 103-98 loss to the Clippers that featured the Thunder squandering 22-point second half lead.
“They made plays, we didn’t,” said Durant after the game, according to ESPN.com’s Royce Young. “They were disciplined, we weren’t. We want to be a great team. We’re fooling ourselves. If we want to be a great team, the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves.”
Durant’s comments come after the team’s fifth loss in seven games since the All-Star break. And while they still hold the a lead over the Clippers for the third spot in the Western Conference standings and boast the fourth best record in the league, many have questioned the team’s identity, from who the the third primary scorer will be after Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook to who fills the role of scorer and leader off the bench. The scoring has occasionally been filled by forward Serge Ibaka, but trends of inconsistent play have forced head coach Billy Donovan to search for other options. Many have also advocated for Anthony Morrow to see more action off the bench, giving the team more shooting and stretching the floor on offense.
Although their recent slate of games have suggested otherwise, by no means are the Thunder struggling to get into the playoffs or fighting to take over the top two spots in the conference, occupied by the Warriors (54-5) and the Spurs (51-9), respectively. Rather, as coach Billy Donovan put it after Wednesday night’s game, the Thunder are struggling “from an identity standpoint,” which has raised questions about whether Durant or Westbrook-arguably two of the best five players in the league-should take over in late-game situations, whether the erratic play of guard Dion Waiters off the bench has left a gaping hole in the team’s offense, and who’s most responsible for their recent stumbles. Is it Donovan? Could there be a clash between Westbrook and Durant, whose comments Wednesday were speculated by many as a shot towards his teammate? Or it this just a stretch that good teams experience and eventually overcome before the postseason?
Durant’s comments come just days after LeBron James questioned the mental toughness of his East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers, and similar to the Thunder, James knows his team isn’t bad, but room for improvement stares them in the eye. Both players also realize that the margin of error come playoff time is zero, especially given the competitiveness of the top seeds in both conferences. The difference is that James’ Cavaliers are bound to breeze past teams in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Durant and the Thunder just hope to find enough of an identity to make it through whatever teams they end up playing.