SACRAMENTO — Of all the creeds that stand the test of time in the NBA, the one about not panicking in November holds up as well as any.
Slow starts happen. Chemistry takes time to take hold. It’s an 82-game marathon, not a sprint. And so the tropes go.
But when the Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the lowly Sacramento Kings, 94-86, on Tuesday night at the Golden 1 Center, their sixth loss in 10 regular season tries so much uglier than any that had come before, it spoke volumes that resident reigning MVP Russell Westbrook felt compelled to announce afterward that concern was not creeping in.
“I’m not worried,” said Westbrook, who missed 14 of 21 shots and had seven turnovers yet — somehow, someway — wasn’t even close to the worst Thunder player on this night. “I love nights like this. It does nothing but bring you closer — as a unit, as brothers. I’m encouraged by the group of guys we have in that room, and I will be better. Like I said before, I take ownership of how we’re playing, and I will be better. We will be better, so I’m not worried.”
Chances are, he’s right. There’s simply no way they’ll be this bad on a regular basis — so bad that their already-mediocre offensive showing this season hit a humbling new low as they fell to 22nd in offensive rating (the Westbrook-led 2016-17 Oklahoma City squad, for what it’s worth, was 17th — and that was before the Thunder had their lightning-in-a-bottle summer).
When you add a four-time All-Star like Paul George and a 10-time All-Star like Carmelo Anthony in the span of one offseason, then the scope of the scrutiny inevitably changes. Golden State Warriors be darned, a championship — one that might compel George to re-sign in free agency in July — is the obvious goal here. And while the cohesion and dominance didn’t need to happen right away, these sorts of struggles were predicted by, well, no one.
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To wit: Westbrook, George and Anthony combined to miss 39 of 54 shots against a Kings defense that entered play with the league’s third-worst defensive rating and which was 22nd in opponent’s field-goal percentage (46.3; the Thunder shot 33.7% overall). The Kings, who entered on a seven-game losing streak and won despite trailing 25-10 after the first quarter, held the Thunder to a combined 32 points in the second and third quarters.
“We’ve got to do a better job of player movement so we don’t get stagnant and it continues to just load up on us,” said George, who had 12 points on four of 16 shooting. “It’s another step of adversity — another jab of adversity. We have to understand at this point, teams for the most part are going to play loose and just care free out there because it’s us — it’s the Thunder. We’re a team that’s supposed to win so a lot of pressure’s not on them. And that was the case tonight.”
“We have a whole year to figure it out. We can’t really try to rush this. It’s something that’s step-by-step, day-by-day, (and) at this point game-by-game. We’ve got to slowly get on the same page. It sucks to drop games like this … but this is not when we want to be playing our best basketball.”
A talented Denver team looms on Thursday night, the last of the Thunder’s three-game road trip. Thunder concern, or lack thereof, shall commence then.
“If anything, I think we’re trying to figure out who’s gonna do it; we’re being a little but too unselfish,” Anthony, who shot four of 17 from the field and was a team-worst minus-21, said of their star trio. “Yeah, we’re going the other way rather than just coming together, figuring it out. But that comes with … this journey, this process. This is all new to everybody, new situations for everybody. Even though (we’re) losing games, I think it’s more of lessons being learned than actually losing the game. So right now, we’re learning a lesson in these last couple games.”
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.
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