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“The core of your team gets built on the road,” said Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault on Sunday evening before the team hit the road for a trip out west.
To him, road trips are great for a developing young team and there are plenty of lessons to be learned.
“I love playing on the road. It’s a great test,” said Daigneault. “It’s strips away everything except for your team. It’s just you. I actually think road games, wins and losses, build a lot of chemistry because it limits a lot of distractions.”
While these games are great tests, they’re extremely difficult to win. In fact, only two teams in the entire Western Conference have a winning record on the road this season.
Oklahoma City is currently 13-21 away from Paycom Center in the 2022-23 campaign and facing a pivotal a four-game road trip. Over the course of the next week, the Thunder will play the LA Clippers twice, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers before returning home.
The reality is that the results of this trip will directly impact the Thunder’s ability to make the postseason. Entering this road trip, they’re the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a record of 35-36. Each of the teams OKC will play on this trip are within just a few games in the standings one direction or another.
Heading back home from this stint, the Thunder will have just eight games remaining in the season. They could be as high as the No. 5 seed at that point, or as low as the No. 12 seed. There’s so much variability at this stage in the season with how tight the standings are.
“It’s going to be a great test for us this week,” said Daigneault.
It’s a tough task for the youngest team in the NBA to go take care of business on the road against teams with superstar talent and high stakes. However, the Thunder have exceeded expectations all season and risen to every occasion.
Regardless, given they’ve only won 38.2% of their road games this season the odds aren’t in their favor.
But what makes it so hard to win on the road outside of the travel and opposing team having the crowd behind them?
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” said Daigneault.”
What he does know is just how much a home crowd can do for a team. In fact, on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns at home the Thunder were fueled by the largest crowd of the season to a victory.
“We don’t win without being at home and without the crowd being like that. That exists on the road [for the opposing team],” said the Thunder coach after the win.
From a player’s point of view, there’s also a level of comfort playing at home along with the energy the crowd brings.
“When you make runs, it amplifies it. Also, every teams plays on their home floor 41 times a year. You get comfortable with the arena and the backdrops and all that.”
There’s a clear correlation to the Thunder’s performance and where they’re playing. At home, most of the individual players are more efficient and productive than on the road when looking at their respective numbers. ditionally, Oklahoma City is 22-15 when playing at home this season. This is also the case for most of the teams the Thunder will play this week on their respective home floors.
As the Thunder enter what might be the most crucial road trip of the season to this point, the level of difficulty playing away from home should be acknowledged.