Is Kevin Durant and the Thunder’s championship window closing for good?

Oklahoma City have been struggling, and Kevin Durant is a free agent this summer. The chances of them winning the NBA title are drifting away

On Sunday, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 104-96, although it was a far from convincing win. In the fourth quarter, Milwaukee were able to cut the Thunders 21-point lead all the way down to two, turning what could have been a much-needed blowout into a nailbiter. Even in victory, the Thunder werent able to quieten fears that the Thunders championship window could be closing.

Before Sundays win, the Thunder were on a 1-4 skid highlighted by a series of brutal losses. First came Februarys game against the Golden State Warriors where they held a four-point lead with 14.5 seconds left in regulation. After allowing a quick lay-up, the Thunder were called for a foul that allowed Andre Iguodala to tie the game with just 0.7 seconds left on the clock. In overtime, Steph Curry hit an improbable game-winner.

As painful as that was, things would only get worse for Oklahoma City. After an easy win over the Kings, Oklahoma City managed to blow a 20 point lead to the Clippers, eventually losing 103-98. Were fooling ourselves if we want to be a great team the way that were playing, Kevin Durant said after the game. Were fooling ourselves.

The day after that demoralizing loss, the Thunder had to face the Warriors for a second time. Once again, the Thunder looked like they were in control, up 80-71 at one point in the third quarter and once again they faltered in the fourth. The Warriors not only won, they won by the final score of 121-106, giving little indication that it was a close contest, let alone a game where the Thunder held a late lead.

Its not the losses themselves that should worry the Thunder, but rather the way they have been losing. Oklahoma City has legitimate concerns when it comes to closing out games, something which may be related to the fact that first-year head coach Billy Donovan has been working without his two key assistants. Even with Durant and Russell Westbrook both healthy and playing at an all-star level, this Thunder team is not playing like a team that can be trusted to win a seven game series against either the Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs.

This is not good news for Thunder fans, especially considering Joel Meyerss claim that Durant, a free agent after the season is over, will head elsewhere should the team fail to reach the NBA finals. Even if theres no substance behind this specific rumor, its quite likely that Durant will want to go where he will have the best chance at winning a championship and that may not end up being Oklahoma City.

Quote of the week

Now you know why we wanted him.

Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle on the Clippers DeAndre Jordan

Jordan, of course, was set to join the Mavericks over the off-season before the events of the Great Emoji War convinced him to re-sign with the Clippers. On Monday, Jordan put up 23 points and 20 rebounds against Dallas in what ended up being a 109-90 Clippers victory. Mavericks owner Mark Cubans reaction, presumably, was probably considerably more R-rated than Carlisles.

Video of the week

Thats the Miami Heats Burnie failing to jump over a row of his fellow mascots. This incident happened during the Heats Sunday evening game against the Philadelphia 76ers, who were probably relieved to not be the biggest disastrous joke on the court that day. (Note: theres some who believe this was a publicity stunt designed to go viral and that Burnie wiped out on purpose. Quick, somebody get Alex Jones on the case!)

How did LeBron carry the Cavaliers this week?

Sometimes a leader has to do more than inspire his team on the court. Sometimes he has to use psychological welfare. As we mentioned last week, James has taken to inspiring his team via oblique, passive-aggressive subtweeting.

LeBron James (@KingJames) March 5, 2016

The ultimate level of chemistry is when you know what I'm thinking without saying a word and we execute it. Visa Versa. #TheDC #SFG

Its hard to say that Jamess tweeting had anything to do with it, but the Cavaliers did go on a three-game win streak following his initial cryptic comments (which were meant, James later elaborated, for those who have an educated mind).

When the win streak ended with the Cavaliers inexplicably dropping a game against a short-handed Memphis Grizzlies team on Monday, James decided it was time to call out his team a bit more directly. After the game, James told the media: I can sit up here and say that were a team thats ready to start the playoffs tomorrow, but were not. So, James went from needling members of his team on Twitter to using the media to get out the message that hes unhappy with them? Somebody is clearly borrowing a few pages from the Phil Jackson playbook.

Power rankings

1. Golden State Warriors (previous week:1)

A day after being on the wrong end of one of the biggest-regular season upsets in NBA history that would be Sunday afternoons loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers the Warriors bounced back by making history in a more positive manner. On Monday they beat the Orlando Magic 119-113, setting a new NBA record by winning 45 straight home games. This after Steph Curry became the first player to make 300 three-pointers in a single season.

2. San Antonio Spurs (2)

The Warriors loss to the Lakers on Sunday gave the Spurs a rare opportunity to creep up the Western Conference standings. They werent able to capitalize, however, as their 99-91 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday ensured that the status quo would be upheld.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3)

Its not certain whether LeBron Jamess Twitter presence has been paying off in basketball terms, but its absolutely benefited music fans. James used Twitter to pressure Kendrick Lamar into releasing his new tracks. As a result, Lamar released Untitled Unmastered last week.

LeBron James (@KingJames) February 23, 2016

Yo @dangerookipawaa after that @kendricklamar Grammy performance , you have to release those untitled tracks asap!!! What's up? Talk to me

James was quick not to take all the credit, however.

LeBron James (@KingJames) March 4, 2016

Don't thank me, Thank @kendricklamar for being one INCREDIBLE artist! His outlook on things and insight he possesses aren't common..

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)

The Thunders adversity-plagued year took yet another dark turn last week, as minority stake owner Aubrey McClendon died in a one-person wreck the day after his indictment on corruption charges. The Thunder held a moment of silence for him during Sundays game.

5. Toronto Raptors (5)

From a basketball fan angle, the most entertaining aspect of Terrence Rosss reported relationship with Amber Rose are the gossip site headlines identifying him as an NBA star. While were not sure that Ross quite qualifies as a star, he did win the Dunk Contest back in 2014 so well allow it.

6. Los Angeles Clippers (6)

In further mascot news, the Clippers made a key addition to their team: Chuck the Condor. Reviews have not been positive.

Kristina Pink (@Kristina_Pink) March 1, 2016

Chuck the Condor is the new LA Clippers mascot... Just revealed at halftime of tonight's game. pic.twitter.com/COAFqq5old

Still, theres a healthy percentage of Clippers fans that would rather see him on the floor than Austin Rivers.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (10)

How unexpected was Memphiss win over Cleveland on Monday? Thanks to injuries, the Grizzlies only had eight players available yet they were still able to pull of the 106-103 victory.

8. Boston Celtics (7)

The Celtics, riding a win streak and looking as dangerous as they have in years, came into Clevelands Quicken Loans Arena and almost immediately took a 18 point lead. They ended up losing 120-103.

9. Miami Heat (8)

The current Heat team is on a five game win streak, but the Big Three team is still getting all the juicy headlines. In an interview, Danny Granger made headlines by claiming that several Miami players attempted to physically confront Lance Stephenson during the 2012 playoff series between the Heat and the Pacers.

10. Charlotte Hornets (13)

The eternal question in the Eastern Conference: how real are the Hornets? Well, they are on a four game win streak, but three of the four teams they beat in that span were the Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Answer: inconclusive.

11. Atlanta Hawks (11)

The Hawks might be more entertaining off the court than they are on it. Watch as Atlantas Kent Bazemore asks the question: Do You Know More Dance Moves Than Mike Muscala?

12. Indiana Pacers (15)

During Mondays 99-91 win over the Spurs, Indiana held San Antonio to a season-worst 35.4% shooting.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (9)

The Trail Blazers have cooled off a bit, but Damian Lillard very much has not. Lillard scored 50 points in Friday nights loss to the Raptors.

14. Dallas Mavericks (12)

Rick Carlisles work as the Veteran Whisperer continues as David Lee, jettisoned by the Celtics around the trade deadline, has been averaging 20 points a game.

15. Chicago Bulls (16)

The good news: Jimmy Butler scored 24 points in his Bulls return. The bad news: he had to sit out the very next game after experiencing knee swelling.

16. Detroit Pistons (14)

The Pistons start a brutal six day road trip tonight, and its very possible that their performance will determine whether or not they will be able to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

17. Houston Rockets (18)

Eventually, there will come a time when James Hardens occasional defensive lapses stop being funny. This is not that time.

18. Utah Jazz (19)

The Rockets arent very good, but they have been just good enough to keep the Jazz outside the playoff bubble.

19. Washington Wizards (17)

This is a sentence that Wizards fans must be sick of hearing: Bradley Beal once again had to sit out a game, this time after suffering a pelvic injury in Saturdays loss to the Pacers.

20. Orlando Magic (20)

Moral Victory of the Week Department: The Magic almost prevented the Warriors from making history on Monday by cutting their lead to two points with 1:13 remaining in the game.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (21)
22. Sacramento Kings (22)
23. New York Knicks (24)
24. Denver Nuggets (25)
25. New Orleans Pelicans (23)
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (26)
27. Brooklyn Nets (27)
28. Los Angeles Lakers (29)
29. Phoenix Suns (28)
30. Philadelphia 76ers (30)

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/mar/09/kevin-durant-oklahoma-city-thunder