OKLAHOMA CITY — A fourth straight loss, the latest to the Los Angeles Lakers without Lonzo Ball 108-104 on Sunday, has sent the Oklahoma City Thunder spiraling back to some uncertainty, though Russell Westbrook said he embraces the struggle.
“It’s fun, man. Adversity is great,” Westbrook said. “Me personally, I love adversity. It gives you an opportunity to bring your teammates together, bring everybody together and look forward to positive things. Throughout the season, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but we never flinch. That’s one thing about this organization, about our team: We never flinch based on what’s going on. We always stay together.”
Westbrook finished with 36 points on 15-of-25 shooting, plus nine assists, but poor 3-point defense and untimely turnovers unwound the Thunder, despite a chaotic flurry that nearly allowed them to make up a 10-point deficit with a minute to play. The loss to the Lakers came after the Thunder had their eight-game win streak snapped last week in Washington, then a memorable loss to the Nuggets and a 14-point defeat a night later to the Pelicans.
A week ago, the Thunder were rolling along, but in the wake of Andre Roberson‘s season-ending knee injury, they’re 1-4. Roberson’s starting replacement, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson, has scored two points on four shots in the recent five starts. The Thunder have been mostly stable defensively without Roberson, but coach Billy Donovan said he’s worried about their perimeter defense.
“I’m most concerned about that defensively, to be honest, is our 3-point defense,” he said. “I’m really, really concerned about that. You want to protect the deep paint, and you don’t want to give up layups, but when the ball gets kicked back out, we have got to have more urgency to run people off the line.
“That’s where Andre Roberson is great, maybe the best I’ve ever seen, is being able to close down on shooters and get them to bounce it and then also guard them,” Donovan said. “Sometimes it’s really hard to do, but we’ve got to do a better job when we come over to help when the ball gets kicked out of being able to run guys off the line, and I think we’ve gotten killed at the 3-point line defensively.”
The Thunder have had one other four-game losing streak this season: in their figure-it-out phase back in November, when they fell to four games under .500 at 8-12. Players say this lull is different because they have confidence that they can get back on track.
“When you drop a couple games, it gets harder and harder to win that one game to kind of get the ship right,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I think that’s something that we’re dealing with right now. We’ve been here before. We’ve been here, we’ve pushed the ship in the right direction. We won a couple in a row. Now we’ve lost a couple in a row. So it’s on us to make that adjustment and get back on the right foot.”
“We’ll be all right,” Anthony said. “We hit a little rough patch right now, but we’ll be fine. It’s not something to start overreacting and start pointing fingers and trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. We know what’s going, and we’re the only ones that will be able to fix it.”
Next up for OKC: the Warriors in Oakland on two days’ rest. The Thunder won the only previous meeting this season, 108-91 in November, and did it following a few straight losses, another perceived low point in their season.
With Sunday’s loss, the Thunder remain fifth in the Western Conference, but they are only one up in the loss column on the LA Clippers, who are ninth.
“We lost in four in a row That’s where we’re at,” Westbrook said. “But the best part of this league is you get a chance to play again, in a day and half, whatever it is we play.
“We’re going to be good, though.”
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