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News » Still lacking toughness

Still lacking toughness

Still lacking toughness
The Thunder tackled its tallest test this season while you likely were tucked in bed late Friday.

But this challenge didn't come in the form of an NBA superstar or even a stalwart opponent. It was against an injury-ravaged Los Angeles Clippers team that is battling Oklahoma City for the league's worst record.

It was against a team that had lost 14 of 15 games before hosting the Thunder and played without regulars Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph.

It was the perfect measuring stick, a chance to see just how far the Thunder has come and where it is headed in the second half of the season.

And the 107-104 loss taught us Oklahoma City is still short on toughness.

That doesn't mean the Thunder is soft. It means the team has not reached the point where its mental makeup refuses to allow a crushing defeat to an inferior team.

OKC has shown resiliency, battling through injuries, rallying from deficits and hanging tough with some of the league's best teams.

But there is a difference between resiliency as the hunter and tough-mindedness as the hunted.

The Thunder on Friday had a chance at its fourth road win of the season, its second two-game winning streak and its first chance since early November to move out of last place in the league.

All it took was stepping on a team when it was down - a hallmark of good teams, an Achilles' heel of young ones.

"I think we are (tough) at times," said Nick Collison. "I think we lose our concentration at times. That's part of being mentally tough. Throughout a long season you have to be able to make yourself concentrate and be able to play against a little fatigue when things don't go well on the road.

"We're OK at that at times, but then we have our stretches where we don't have it, and we'll have those bad stretches and let the game get away from us."

The Thunder let Kevin Durant's career night of 46 points and 15 rebounds go to waste as Clippers guard Eric Gordon, a rookie, and second-year forward Al Thornton combined for 75 points.

Veterans Joe Smith, Desmond Mason, Chris Wilcox and Chucky Atkins were relegated to watching helplessly from the bench. Meanwhile, young guns Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and Kyle Weaver saw what it's like when a shorthanded and scrappy opponent turns you into the hunted.

They failed this initial test.

"Eventually the light bulb is going to come on," Smith said.

The Thunder can't take the next step until that switch is flipped.

Nets AT Thunder

Time: 7 tonight

Arena: Ford Center

Television: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37)

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

Three things to know

→New Jersey is just 1-5 since beating the Thunder on Jan. 12.

→Nets forward Yi Jianlian has missed the past seven games because of a broken finger.

Kevin Durant is averaging 27.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals in 11 January games.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: January 28, 2009


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