Durant and Westbrook return but is there too much ground to be made up?
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With both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back in action, the Oklahoma City Thunder will hope to close the gap on their playoff rivals in the coming months.
However, with Thursday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans leaving them in a 5-13 hole, have they got too much do to in a competitive Western Conference which potentially sees them realistically targeting the final playoff spot only?
Westbrook returned from a broken hand to score 32 points in 24 minutes in a win over the New York Knicks earlier this week, but in his second game back he was not nearly as efficient as he finished with 21 points.
Durant added 27 points against New Orleans but couldn’t immediately inspire his team to a win, and ultimately that will be the problem in the upcoming week or so as the pair find their wind, consistency and ability to build chemistry with the team on the court again.
Having the reigning league MVP and one of the best point guard’s in the NBA back are undoubtedly huge boosts for the entire franchise, but this isn’t likely going to be an immediate fix.
Naturally with such delicate injuries there is always a fear of a setback, but neither Durant nor Westbrook have time to gradually build their way back in if they harbour hopes of making the post-season.
Based on the numbers last year, the Thunder must go 44-20 through the remainder of the season in order to reach 49 wins which was enough to make the cut.
However, it won’t be that easy considering the level of competition in the West even beyond the current top eight and it will take something special from coach Scott Brooks and his men to turn things around.
Admittedly, there is still plenty of time for it to happen and things could have even changed drastically by the time we reach 2015. Nevertheless, looking at the current standings, it is difficult to see how other teams will drop off enough to open the door for OKC.
Memphis, Golden State, Portland, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and the Clippers all appear to be set for the top seven seeds in the West, not necessarily in that order. In turn, that leaves Phoenix, Sacramento, Denver and New Orleans to fight for the eighth seed, along with the Thunder who will hope to make a push.
Of that second group, the Suns and Nuggets are more likely to have the consistency to push on through the remainder of the season, and so essentially Oklahoma City have a six-game deficit to wipe out.
On the face of it, that doesn’t really sound like too much given how much time they still have left and while we all expect Durant and Westbrook to be firing on all cylinders before the month is out, it remains to be seen how far behind they fall behind in the more immediate future as the star duo get back to playing consistent competitive basketball.
Provided that they can survive and grind out wins as they find their feet and they don’t suffer any injury setbacks, then it is more than possible that the Oklahoma City Thunder will be part of the 2014/15 playoffs.