After Oklahoma City dropped its first three contests of the year, it appeared as though the OKC faithful were in for another long season. In 2021-22, the team finished 24-58, and seemed a lifetime away from postseason contention.
The consolation prize for the Thunder’s troubles was second overall pick Chet Holmgren, who was slated to immediately step into a major role as the squad’s anchor in the paint. Holmgren, however, sustained a foot injury over the summer that would sideline 20-year-old big man for his entire rookie season.
On opening night, Oklahoma City suffered another setback, losing standout rookie Jalen Williams for a brief stint after the Santa Clara product caught an elbow to the face against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Things looked especially bleak following the team’s home opener, when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was forced to sit out with an injury, leading to a double-digit loss that would sink OKC’s record to 0-3.
Now, the Thunder sit at 21-23, just half of a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers in the race for the final Play-In spot. Even more incredibly, Oklahoma City is only a game and a half behind the Los Angeles Clippers, who are currently slated as the sixth seed in the West.
Heading into its Dec. 17 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, OKC was on a five-game losing streak, which looked as though it would be increased to six without Gilgeous-Alexander in the lineup. The Thunder were able to overcome the Grizzlies without their star, kicking off a 10-5 stretch for Oklahoma City since mid-December.
Most recently, OKC closed out its road trip with three consecutive wins, including impressive victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. The Thunder have achieved these feats all without the help of Ousmane Dieng, Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who are still recovering from their own ailments.
When these three versatile players return to the lineup, Oklahoma City could become an even more dangerous team, and potentially make the push for a Play-In spot. In the coming weeks, the Thunder will have solid opportunities to earn the wins needed to catch the teams ahead of them in the standings.
On January 18, OKC returns home to meet the Indiana Pacers, who are without star guard Tyrese Haliburton. Oklahoma City kicks off its February slate with back-to-back matchups against the Houston Rockets, who currently have the worst record in the NBA.
While the Thunder have already shown that their rebuild is ahead of schedule, a postseason berth in any fashion would be a remarkable sign of young team’s potential and an indicator that Oklahoma City has found a group that could be successful for years to come.