NORMAN, Okla. — The season began on Oct. 23. The trade deadline is Feb. 6. Yet, when it comes to evaluating the Thunder, time begins on Nov. 29.
Oklahoma City welcomed New Orleans into Chesapeake Energy Arena that night, trying to do something about its 6-11 record through 17 games. It was the night the Thunder began the playing like one of the NBA’s best teams.
Since Nov. 29, the Thunder have gone 19-8, which is a .704 winning percentage, fourth best in the NBA, third best in the Western Conference, trailing only Milwaukee (24-3), Utah (19-6) and the Los Angeles Lakers (18-7) over the same time on the calendar.
Beginning that day, the Thunder have gone 9-5 at home and and 10-3 away from home.
They have beaten bad teams like Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota and they have beaten good teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto, Houston and Utah.
They’ve won big, by 18 points over Phoenix, 15 over Cleveland, 21 over Houston, and the’ve won small, by three points over Chicago, two over Charlotte and one over Toronto.
They’ve won with all their players, save Andre Roberson, available, and they’ve won without Danilo Gallinari, without Steven Adams, without Nerlens Noel and, two days ago, at Houston, without Adams, Noel, Abdel Nader and Terrance Ferguson all on the same afternoon.
Mostly, they’ve won.
So how on earth could they be torn apart? Or, why on earth would they be? Or, really, how could any front office steal such a season from its fans.
Every game is a sellout, yet not all are the same.
Once, pockets of open seats remained, season-ticket holders apparently staying home. Now, not only is it a sellout but it looks like one, too, and the noise can even be felt, not merely heard.
Chris Paul is an iron man. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has already powered through a sophomore slump to play his best basketball to date. Dennis Schroder’s playing like the sixth-man of the year and Danilo Gallinari is averaging more than 25 points a game over his last six games.
Every player who was in OKC last season and this season, too, is bringing a bigger game than he brought a year ago and new faces are outperforming expectation.
In the building, when things aren’t going the home team’s way, there’s this feeling they eventually will because it has. Since Nov. 29, in games decided by two possessions or less, the Thunder are 12-1.
They have played more clutch minutes — occurring in the final five when teams are separated by five or fewer points — than any other team in the league (126) and have outscored opponents per 100 possessions during those minutes by a best-in-the-league 26.2 points.
If the Thunder were to play .704 basketball the rest of the season, just as they have over their last 27 games, they would win 27 of their remaining 38 and if they were to do that, they would win 52 games, which last season would have been worth the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, one win from No. 3 and two wins from No. 2.
So how could they be broken up?
General manager Sam Presti actually addressed tearing it down and not tearing it down all in the space of a couple sentences during his pre-training camp press conference.
“Right now, we still have a team that we feel like we want to go out and see what [it] can do, and at some point we will get to that restructuring, rebuilding period, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “But we’re not going to sacrifice the long-term vision we have for the team.”
A fence-riding soliloquy to be sure.
But could he have seen this coming?
Could he have seen the players enjoying each other this much, playing together so well, capturing the fans imagination so entirely.
The Thunder are playing like a team the rest of the league might make deadline moves only hoping to catch.
How can it be torn down?
it can't be torn down.
Oklahoma City at Orlando
Time: 6 p.m. today
Place: Amway Center
Records: Thunder 25-19; Magic 21-23
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1
Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.