Since the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder has been in a three-game tailspin. Worse for the Thunder, all three losses came at home — with the last loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were 22-36 (.390) at the time and 10th in the Eastern Conference rankings.
This losing streak has raised some eyebrows in the NBA community and put the focus on the Thunder’s point guard Russell Westbrook since his return to the starting lineup after missing games because of his knee surgery on December 27. But before Westbrook needed the surgery the Thunder was 21-4 and was on top of the Western Conference standings. On Christmas Day Westbrook had a triple-double in a 123-94 road victory over the New York Knicks, just the eighth triple-double on Christmas Day in NBA history.
If you plug Westbrook in ANY lineup in the NBA, his athleticism and energy will instantly make that team better. Since his return, Russell has been playing well and Durant has been a consistent scorer with him on the court. The team chemistry surrounding Russell Westbrook’s return to the starting lineup is not the problem.
The Thunder need to put the blame for their losing streak on the defensive side of the ball. When Oklahoma City played the Cavaliers Tuesday night, they played well for three quarters, but gave up an astonishing 42 points in the fourth quarter to a less than mediocre team at home. If there’s an individual player to focus on for the recent losses, it’s not Russell Westbrook but starting center Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins suffered a groin injury in the first quarter of the game against the Miami Heat; he had surgery to repair the injury and will likely be out for six weeks. And the Thunder have not been the same without him.
Kendrick Perkins is nowhere near a top-10 center in the NBA and has not been a contributor on the offensive side of the ball. Perkins has averaged 3.2 points per game for the 54 games he played this season, but his defensive presence just does something positive for the team. When Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Perkins play together, you can see the comfort and confidence the trio has knowing that they have each other backs on defense and that’s because they have played together for a few years.
With Perkins out, rookie center Steven Adams has stepped in and played at the same level, but the continuity isn’t there and it shows on the defensive end. Adams is averaging less points, rebounds and blocks per game than his season averages even though he is starting.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (43-15) has to fix their defensive woes as soon as possible, or they will continue in the tailspin and lose their grip of the number-one seed in the Western Conference. (The San Antonio Spurs are right on their tail, just a game and a half behind.) Losing an important role player like Perkins has Adams playing a role in which he is not comfortable, which has the team searching for that comfort zone they need in order to get back on track and start another winning streak.