Thunder has prospered on the road by cutting through the distractions

Thunder has prospered on the road by cutting through the distractions

That Oklahoma City has excelled on the road this season flies in the face of a commonly held belief that young teams — the Thunder has the NBA’s second-youngest roster — don’t fare well away from home.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Dec 5, 2023, 7:00am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Dec 5, 2023, 7:00am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Not much on the road has rattled the young Thunder. 

Its seven road wins are tied for the most in the NBA. The Thunder is outscoring opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions away from home, the league’s best net rating on the road by a wide margin. The Knicks and Warriors are tied in second place at 2.9. 

Last Saturday, OKC withstood a 30-0 run — the first in the NBA since at least 1996-97, when play-by-play data became available — and still won at Dallas. 

So those boos that point guard Josh Giddey is getting every time he touches the ball? Noticeable. But not a talking point for the Thunder. 

“It’s just another distraction on the long list of them in the NBA in a game,” OKC coach Mark Daigneault said Monday after practice. “Part of being a good team is being able to cut through all distractions, and some of those are predictable. Some of them are unpredictable, like that one. And some of them are game context.”

Like, for example, giving up 30 consecutive points, a scenario Daigneault called “ripe with distractions.” 

The boos for Giddey might not be the biggest potential diversion for the Thunder. But they’re certainly the newest. 

They started last week in a loss at Minnesota, OKC’s first road game since the NBA confirmed it was looking into a viral social media post that alleged Giddey had an improper relationship with a minor. 

The Newport Beach Police Department announced in a news release last week that it is engaged in an “active investigation” of the allegations, “seeking additional information related to these allegations and pursuing all leads and evidence to obtain the facts of the case.” 

Giddey and the Thunder have declined comment on the matter, but if Minnesota and Dallas were any indication, fans on the road will be vocal. 

Giddey was booed in both arenas during the introduction of the Thunder’s starting lineup and again each time he touched the ball. 

OKC’s approach to that crowd reaction, wing Jalen Williams said, has been to “just go out and play.”

“Everything that happens outside of the four lines is not in our control and not something that anybody’s really worried about,” Williams said. “Josh has handled it really well, and so has the rest of the team. We’re all just kind of within ourselves. We’re all in our own little world when it comes to a lot of stuff like that, and I think that’s kind of served us well this year.”

In fact, Daigneault said, very little of the Thunder’s away-game prep is specific to the road environment. 

Mostly, he and his team talk about doing the same things in every situation: against any opponent; at home or on the road; during a winning streak or a losing streak. 

“The one thing we do talk about on the road is trying to get off to good starts,” Daigneault said. “I do think to win a road game, if you can play with a lead early, that usually helps you. It’s not a rule, obviously. But that is the one thing that we might hit (in preparation).”

On average, OKC outscores its opponents by six points in the first half of road games, the third-best margin in the league. 

“It’s just something we’ve been trying to hold ourselves accountable with all season, whether it’s home or away,” Williams said. “Obviously it’s hard to have a bad start on an away game and be successful. That’s something that we’re consciously mindful of.”

That Oklahoma City has excelled on the road this season flies in the face of a commonly held belief that young teams — the Thunder has the NBA’s second-youngest roster — don’t fare well away from home. 

But Daigneault said there are “a lot of things that separate us from the narrative around young teams,” and said some of those narratives “apply to really all teams.”

“There’s old teams that are bad on the road,” he said. “There’s older teams that don’t play with poise or that don’t have emotional regulation or whatever. So we’re more focused on trying to be a good team rather than a good young team or anything like that. But I do think we have an uncommon poise and maturity about us, but I would say we have that relative to all teams, not just young teams.”

The Thunder’s formula for road success will get a test on Wednesday when it travels to Houston. The Rockets are 8-1 at home and 0-8 on the road. 

It’s a challenge that will come with its own set of obstacles to overcome, no matter what the reception for Giddey. 

“Good teams can keep their feet on the ground and stay focused through those distractions, but it’s easier said than done,” Daigneault said. “And it’s not something that you’re entitled to the next night. So we have to be able to do that again against Houston and there’ll be another list of things that we have to cut through in that game.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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