When training camp opened, the Oklahoma City Thunder were looking to be one of the top contenders in the Western conference. Then, reigning MVP Kevin Durant suffered a foot fracture during camp. And then Russell Westbrook suffered a hand fracture in the Thunder’s second game of the season. The team has been hit with injuries to other players, too, including Anthony Morrow and Perry Jones III. They’ve gotten off to a disappointing 3-6 start to the year with their two best players out, and now fourth-year guard Reggie Jackson is embracing the role of leader.
“There’s an understanding, deep in back of our minds, that we have to stay afloat, that we have to tread water,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports. “For us, it’s about getting into the playoffs now. The seeding doesn’t matter. If we can get to the playoffs, we’ll be better for this.”
“All the eyes of my teammates, in all moments, are locked in on me now,” Jackson told Yahoo. “They’re looking for direction. It’s been difficult losing some of these close games, but I couldn’t imagine fighting alongside any other guys. I love that we’re not making excuses. I love this challenge of dealing with the disappointment, the challenge of going to sleep thinking about how I can help my teammates and waking up still thinking the same things: ‘How can we win?’
“I love putting that pressure on myself. I love being relied upon for so much. I love being the leader out there, being the coach’s eyes, be part of the chess game.”
If the Thunder are hoping to make the playoffs, they have a tough road ahead and a lot of ground to make up. Usual suspects like the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are off to hot starts, and surprising teams like the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans have shoved their way into the conversation for a coveted playoff spot in the West.
Durant and Westbrook are out until the end of the month at the earliest, and probably longer than that. Making up that much ground in a deep conference is not going to be easy, particularly if either of the superstars has any setbacks.
On the other hand, imagine a fully healthy Thunder team as a seventh or eighth seed. They would have the potential to seriously mess up the playoff bracket.