The Thunder have ridden their young guns to the best start in the Western Conference.
Amid all the uncertainty of a lockout-shortened season, one thing seemed sure. With a compressed time frame forcing teams into a much more frantic schedule, there would be more "schedule losses," those games where the team is simply destined to lose because of the rigors of travel and short rest, than in a normal season. In particular, this season features at least one dreaded back-to-back-to-back (three games on consecutive nights) for every team, and no team can be expected to win the third game of three straight.
In reality, the Thunder became the fifth team this season (out of five) to do just that. They were also the first to win all three. And they completed the trifecta against a good team, blitzing the San Antonio Spurs in the third quarter on the way to an easy 108-96 victory.
The conventional wisdom on the post-lockout season is a bit contradictory. The shortened training camp will theoretically favor teams that have been together for awhile and have relative stability from last season, while the compressed schedule will favor young teams with fresh legs. However, those types of teams tend to be mutually exclusive. The Thunder are the rare team that actually fits into both categories. Returning the entire starting lineup and essentially the same rotation from their 2011 playoff team, they have plenty of stability this season, yet they also happen to be one of the youngest teams in the league, led by a pair of 23-year-old All-NBA selections, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
And sure enough, the Thunder currently have the best record in the Western Conference at 8-2. This team is good, and it's deep, and it's ideally suited to get out to a hot start this season.
Despite playing their tenth game in just 15 days to begin the season, the Thunder buried the Spurs with a 37-point third quarter. Of course, the Spurs have played nine games themselves, and were playing on the road after beating Denver in San Antonio last night, so they were also a bit fatigued. And unlike Oklahoma City, the Spurs are not a young team.
Durant led the way for Oklahoma City with a hyper-efficient 21 points on just nine shots (he was 10 for 10 from the line). He also had 10 rebounds and 7 assists in just three quarters of work, as both teams' starters took the fourth quarter off. James Harden, an early candidate for the Sixth Man Award, contributed 20 points on 11 shots off the bench. Rookie point guard Reggie Jackson scored 11 points in his first meaningful minutes of the season backing up Westbrook -- Eric Maynor was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Saturday night's win in Houston.
With the loss, the Spurs drop to 6-3. They seem to be weathering the loss of Manu Ginobili relatively well, until you realize that they have yet to win on the road this season. They are undefeated in six games in San Antonio, but this was their third loss in three road games, all by double digit margins.