Remember those days last summer in Enid watching the Thunder play for the NBA title on the big outfield screen at David Allen Memorial Ballpark? Hold on to those memories. If current trends continue, Thunder fans are going to be stuck doing a lot of reminiscing instead of the celebrating many expected with a second run for a title.
Defending champion Miami is scorching the NBA right now. The Heat, who made quick work of the Thunder by dispatching Oklahoma City in five games in last year’s finals, are on a potentially record-setting winning streak and are doing it with some serious attitude.
Following the Heat’s win over the Detroit Pistons Friday night, LeBron James and company have won 25 straight games and are running away in the Eastern Conference race.
They have done it by blowing teams away and by staging improbable comebacks and now are threatening the all-time NBA winning streak of 33 games set by the 1971-72 Lakers.
In their two games prior to Friday night, the Heat’s streak appeared to be in serious jeopardy. They were down by 17 in Boston on Monday before storming back for a 105-103 victory and then overcame an improbable 27-point deficit in Cleveland on Wednesday to defeat the Cavaliers 98-95. Both nights the Heat looked quite mortal, but then showed a rather amazing resolve in refusing to let the streak end.
The Heat actually appear to revel in the notion that every team is gunning for them and take it as a challenge.
“Every team is going to give us a good shot, no matter their record,” James said after the Heat’s win over Cleveland. “We’re going to get their best and we should enjoy that. We embrace that.”
Meanwhile, a team that has been appearing to wither under the pressure of late are our own Oklahoma City, who could take a lesson from the Heat’s bravado.
At one point this season, the Thunder appeared to be the NBA’s best. Now, they are not even the best in the West. And, unlike the Heat, they are showing a propensity to wither down the stretch. Hardly a sign of a future champion.
The Thunder trail the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference for the top spot and are desperately trying to hold off the surging Denver Nuggets.
The Thunder showed the opposite of the Heat’s champion-like resolve this past week in two recent losses. In Tuesday’s 114-104 loss to the Nuggets, OKC could not hold onto a 10-point second quarter lead and faded badly down the stretch, and worse, were out-muscled, giving up 72 points in the paint.
The next night, in Memphis, the Thunder again collapsed, blowing a 6-point lead with 30 seconds remaining, falling to the Grizzlies, another team suddenly breathing down the Thunder’s necks, 90-89 in overtime.
Both losses revealed a softness that Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and company better address before the playoffs roll around in April or the Thunder are going to make an exit long before the NBA finals.
The Heat have embraced their role as the hunted and have answered every salvo. They appear well on their way to making a return appearance in the NBA finals.
But with the recent play of the Thunder, those memories of summer nights at the ballpark here in Enid are in serious danger of becoming not just memories, but distant memories.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.