Lights are on. It’s show­time.

Teams with fewer than 50 wins don’t of­ten flip the switch in playoffs, but OKC be­lieves it can

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NBA PALYOFFS -

Paul Ge­orge, who led the Pac­ers on a sur­prise run to the 2013 East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, pro­vides the Thun­der with a play­off blue­print.

We talk about the play­off switch like it’s a thing.

We won­der an­nu­ally which NBA team might flip it, if a dis­ap­point­ing Dr. Jekyll can morph into a high-gear Mr. Hyde.

It’s the sort of no­tion that gives hope to a team like the Thun­der, which in the reg­u­lar sea­son — as it tried to find a fit between stars Rus­sell West­brook, Paul Ge­orge and Carmelo An­thony — stum­bled out of the gate and maybe found its way late.

It’s a rea­son to be­lieve that maybe Ok­la­homa City’s first-round Game 1 Sun­day against the Utah Jazz is the start of an un­ex­pected run for the No. 4 seed in the Western Con­fer­ence.

The switch is mag­i­cal. And maybe myth­i­cal. “I’m not a big be­liever,” said ESPN an­a­lyst Jeff Van Gundy, a former coach of the New York Knicks and Hous­ton Rock­ets.

There’s rea­son to doubt.

For as much as we talk about the switch, the thing rarely gets flipped.

In the past 20 playoffs, only three teams in non-lock­out years reached the con­fer­ence fi­nals with fewer than 50 reg­u­lar-sea­son wins. None of them did it in the Western Con­fer­ence.

Only five times in that span, not in­clud­ing the two lock­out years, has a team seeded out­side the top three reached a con­fer­ence fi­nals.

Still, we be­lieve in the idea of flip­ping the switch. Or some­thing like it.

“I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think there’s a switch,” said Ge­orge, who reached the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals on a 49-win In­di­ana team in 2013. “I just think good teams know how to find a way to win games and know how to find a way to play at the right times.”

If you’re look­ing for prece­dent, you can find it.

The Cava­liers last sea­son, like the Lak­ers in 2001, coasted for much of the reg­u­lar sea­son be­fore find­ing a new gear in the playoffs. Cleve­land reached the NBA Fi­nals; Los An­ge­les won it.

And then there’s the 1995 Rock­ets, who re­main the poster team for switch-flip­ping, mud­dling their way to a 47-35 reg­u­lar sea­son and a No. 6 seed be­fore march­ing through the playoffs, sweep­ing the Or­lando Magic for the NBA cham­pi­onship.

Those Cavs, Lak­ers and Rock­ets all have some­thing in com­mon.

They’d won the NBA ti­tle the pre­vi­ous sea­son on the heels of strong reg­u­lar sea­sons.

And it’s pos­si­ble, Van Gundy said, that “maybe a team that’s won is a lit­tle bit dis­in­ter­ested in the reg­u­lar sea­son but fig­ures out how to get more in­ter­ested in the playoffs.”

The Thun­der doesn’t fit that mold.

This group of play­ers doesn’t have a play­off his­tory to­gether. But it has post­sea­son suc­cess apart. Starters West­brook, Ge­orge, An­thony, Corey Brewer and Steven Adams all have played in at least the con­fer­ence fi­nals.

An­thony be­lieves there’s “ab­so­lutely” a play­off switch, and that OKC’s back­ground as in­di­vid­u­als is key to find­ing it.

“I think that comes from your ex­pe­ri­ences that you’ve had through­out your ca­reer, and just know­ing what it takes, the mind­set, the fo­cus,” An­thony said. “I think more so than any­thing, that’s what it is: un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of the post­sea­son, the at­ten­tion to de­tail that it takes to win in the post­sea­son…”

The in­di­vid­ual tal­ents of West­brook, Ge­orge and An­thony might lead to a “com­pe­ti­tional com­pen­sa­tion,” TNT an­a­lyst Brent Barry said, a sense that “it’s time for each of those guys to have their mo­ments and step up” that could bring out the best in the Thun­der col­lec­tively.

“I’m more a be­liever in habits than a flip of a switch,” Van Gundy said. “But what I do be­lieve, what I do think can change is that an in­di­vid­ual player — like Paul Ge­orge — can go from hav­ing an OK year to be­ing great in a play­off se­ries. Carmelo An­thony, over the course of a twoweek se­ries, could av­er­age three 3s a game.”

It’s un­likely that there’s a switch to flip that fun­da­men­tally changes the Thun­der.

But there’s al­ways hope that a light that’s flick­ered all sea­son might stay on when the games mat­ter most.

“Some­times it’s hard for these guys for 82 games to sus­tain that high level of in­ten­sity and play, but in the playoffs I think you’re more able to do it,” Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van said. “But I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think you can just flip on a switch and be­come some­thing you’re not.”

Brett Daw­son bdaw­son@ oklahoman.com

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