Thunder showing significant signs of life in stretch run 

Remember just a few weeks ago when you were ready to trade in your Thunder tickets for a scratch-off lottery card and a couple of discount drink coupons for McNellie's Public House?

Well, shame on you.

Not that the Public House isn't a great place to hang with your buds, but you forgot all about the advice I shared with you back in early December. Remember when I mentioned it might be wise to dig a little deeper in order to find the kind of patience only a mother can have for her underachieving child?

OK, so maybe your wife or girlfriend tuned into what I was trying to say, and, well, you chose to maintain your narrow-mindedness where Oklahoma City's young NBA franchise was concerned. You just couldn't (and maybe still can't) see past the frustration that goes with losing 40 of your first 53 games.

Too bad for you.

There are all sorts of positives mixed in with the obvious disappointments so far this NBA season. But you have to understand about building blocks and know how to read construction signs, especially the kind that don't always spell it out in black and white.

The Thunder is improving daily and pretty much has been since interim head coach Scott Brooks took over the team back in late November.

Everyone knew it was going to take some time for the franchise to settle into its new surroundings, especially when the average age (22.4 years) of your starting lineup is about the same as that of a veteran college squad.

But after starting the season 4-29, the team has turned a corner in recent weeks, going 9-11 since Jan. 1.

No, winning 9 out of the last 20 games doesn't make your team world-beaters. But when you consider the neighboring (and playoff-bound) Dallas Mavericks have forged a 12-9 mark over that same period, it puts things a little more into perspective.

While the Mavs have a veteran lineup topped by one of the premier stars in the league in Dirk Nowitzki, the Thunder is finding its way behind the performances of youngsters like Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and Kyle Weaver. And recent wins at Chicago and at home against playoff teams like Utah, Detroit and Portland serve as positive indicators that things are slowly but surely coming together for Brooks and company.

With 28 games left on the 2008-09 schedule, the Thunder could potentially run the table and miraculously finish above .500 for the season. But of course, we all know that's probably not going to happen.

Realistically, if OKC can find a way to win 10-12 more games this season " look at the schedule, it's brutally tough " that would provide some solid footing to build on for next season. And if you want to look at it from a purely selfish viewpoint, it will probably put the Thunder smack dab in the running for the No. 1 draft selection this June.

That could potentially translate into current University of Oklahoma star and OKC native Blake Griffin moving just up I-35 come next NBA season. Griffin has developed into the most dynamic player in college basketball and his inside talents would be a much-welcomed addition to the Thunder lineup.

But hey, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. It's only mid-February and there are still plenty of goals to be accomplished and games to be won before we start talking lottery picks.

Sit back and try to enjoy the show. And remember, be patient. Very patient. "Jay C. Upchurch

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Jay C. Upchurch

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