The Curse of the Scooter Boys and the Thunder’s Fight With History

Keith Allison/Flickr Creative Commons

On the left, Thunder cornerstone, folk hero and league MVP Kevin Durant. On the right, Oklahoma City’s first round pick Mitch McGary. Both men, standing side by side, with opposite knees resting on matching Segway minis.

It was a photo Durant posted to Instagram days before the 2014–2015 season was to start, and it made the rounds as Thunder fans wondered whether to laugh or cry.

Looking back, tears were in order.

Oklahoma City’s injury-riddled saga has been well-documented. Durant suffered a debilitating Jones fracture during a routine practice session in October.

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It was first reported the Thunder’s leading scorer, who had missed just one game each of the last two seasons, would be out for the next six to eight weeks.

A rushed return, no doubt precipitated by the loss of Russell Westbrook a mere two games into the season, led to a second surgery for Durant, and more time on the OKC bench.

And now, on Friday, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti announced Durant has been “removed from basketball activities.” Durant, Presti said, is still experiencing soreness in the foot and may well be shut down for the remainder of the season and possibly the entire playoffs.

Hobbling to the Finish

The return of Durant was the last ray of hope in an overwhelmingly taxing year for OKC. The team is still trying to adjust to life without its defensive anchor and rim protector Serge Ibaka, who underwent season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday.

Steven Adams continues to show signs his broken right hand isn’t fully recovered, despite a recent ramp up in minutes. Enes Kanter, an absolute bright spot for the Thunder since the team’s deadline deal with the Jazz, is no picture of health either, and didn’t suit up for OKC’s big win over the East-leading Hawks Friday night.

Even with the victory, the snake-bitten Thunder are reeling more now than perhaps at any time all year, and if it weren’t for the NBA’s resident superhero, Russell “The Masked Man” Westbrook, they’d be squarely in the lottery.

The Thunder are now looking at an uphill battle just to make the playoffs. The under-the-radar New Orleans Pelicans, on the back of wunderkind Anthony Davis, sit two games behind OKC in the Western Conference standings and hold what could be a very important tie-breaker advantage.

With 13 games to go, both squads face a slew of above .500-winning teams, but the onus will be on the KD- and Ibaka-less Thunder to hold serve the rest of the way.

Cracking Open the History Books

Their prize for doing so? A bout with the Golden State Warriors, a team staring down the barrel of a 65-win season.

Since 1984, when the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff format, No. 1 seeds have gone on to win all but five first-round matchups. Of those five upsets, only one favorite— the 2007 Mavericks — had 65 or more victories.

And while Durant and Ibaka haven’t been ruled out of the playoffs, their reintegration into a suddenly different squad is a hurdle few NBA champions have ever had to jump.

*Big 3 selected from PER

It’s true, OKC is not your average No. 8 seed, and is probably more hurt now than it will be in a month. They’re talented enough to streak their way through the NBA Finals, surely.

But in a season marred not just by injuries but by Reggie Jackson’s discontentment, what often seems to be a failed Dion Waiters experiment, star players’ public souring on the media, and the ever-increasing whispers of Durant’s looming free agency, should this version of the Thunder be trusted to make history?