Thunder nearing critical mass?

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are just 8-7 since Dec. 18. AP Images/Ann Heisenfelt

There seems to be a fair bit of anxiety developing in Oklahoma City as the Thunder scramble to get back into the playoff picture. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both once again healthy, the Thunder have climbed back to .500, which in the Eastern Conference would put OKC in the running for a top-five seed.

In the West, however, .500 is lottery fodder. Eight teams in the West are playing at .581 or better, and that's not likely to change. Phoenix has a 3½-game cushion for the last playoff spot, ahead of the Thunder.

It's certainly no time to panic. The Thunder understandably flailed when their stars were out, and the return to break-even was swift. Judging OKC on its season record is harsh, but those early losses do count. During Durant's 17 games, the Thunder are 12-5 for a .705 winning percentage. Maintaining that clip for the rest of the season would net the Thunder about another 30 wins, putting them at 50-32. If Phoenix keeps its pace, the Suns would end up 48-34. The margins are narrow: If Phoenix gets especially hot, or the Thunder suffer another injury, they could be in trouble. Still, according to ESPN's Hollinger Playoff Odds, the Thunder remain within striking distance (41.7 percent chance) of the playoffs.