5 Reasons Why Oklahoma City Is Ready to Claim Its First NBA Title
With the legend of stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant growing each time both lace it up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the opportunity to win a title for this franchise is the greatest it has been since 1996, when they hailed from Seattle and were known as the Supersonics.
That team also had two stars, point guard Gary Payton and power forward/dunk machine Shawn Kemp.
Westbrook and Durant have the potential to shine brighter than their predecessors, and at 34-11, they'll be the favorite to emerge from the Western Conference when the postseason arrives next month.
Frankly, they should be.
The mixture of youth, talent and experience is at a point where they present a tough game for anyone who challenges them, either at home or on the road.
Here's five reasons why the Thunder is ready to emerge from the West and win their first NBA Title.
Durant Having MVP-Type Season
Although he isn't leading the league in scoring, rebounding or assists, Kevin Durant is putting together the type of season that rivals few in the NBA history books.
Durant won't win the MVP award, but he'll be in the top five in voting, and his team wouldn't be anywhere close to being a force offensively or defensively without his effort.
That type of effort will carry over to the postseason, where Durant will have the offense run through him and also take the last shot in a pressure-type situation.
The fifth-year NBA player is developing a reputation for enter the clutch stage of his career, and if the Thunder want to win a title, he'll be at the center of some great, game-ending plays this postseason.
Westbrook Playing Better Than Ever
Russell Westbrook is going to take flak from local and national media alike, even if he averages a triple double.
With Kevin Durant on your team, it's hard to argue that he needs to facilitate more often.
But it's also hard to argue that Westbrook doesn't deserve the ball just as much as Durant at times. Aside from Derrick Rose, there aren't many finishers that get as high and have the creativity at the rim that he displays when driving the ball to the basket.
On defense, Westbrook will hound you into submission, block shots and start the fast break right up there with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James.
Westbrook is shooting close to 47 percent from the floor, and his shot selection, while still questionable at times, is getting to the point where not many question what he does with the ball.
While turnovers are still a huge concern (3.8 per game, third in the league), Westbrook is playing night-in, night-out as one of the Top 10, and arguably Top Five, point guards in the NBA.
The Thunder have his steady penetration and much improved jump shot to rely on should Durant or James Harden be having an off night, making them extremely hard to contend with.
Sixth Man James Harden
To me, James Harden is becoming a younger, more well-rounded version of San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
While Manu has the experience and veteran savvy that makes him one of the toughest guards in the game, Harden is showing athleticism and quickness on defense that Manu doesn't have.
Whenever the two superstars are struggling, Harden is there with a big shot or crafty play for an open teammate, the same way Ginobili often plays third fiddle to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
Harden is the best passer for the Thunder, and his playmaking ability in the second unit stems the tide when Westbrook and Durant are on the bench.
Figure in his ability to be on the floor during crunch time, and a lineup of Harden-Durant-Westbrook compares favorably to about any 1-2-3 punch this league has to offer.
It's amazing that Seattle/OKC got Durant, Westbrook and Harden in back-to-back-to-back drafts, showing the true meaning of rebuilding.
That growth has come full circle, as franchises everywhere should model their rebuilding efforts after the smart moves Oklahoma City has made, even if it is extremely difficult to draft three All-Star caliber players in consecutive seasons.
The Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade was one that was puzzling to analysts at the time of its arrival.
Giving away a young player like Green for the injury-ridden Perkins provided stability to face centers like Andrew Bynum and Tyson Chandler, but Green was one of the better scorers on the squad.
The trade is a success for the Thunder now, with James Harden replacing Green's scoring and Perkins adding a needed toughness and rebounding prowess that lead the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals in a five game series loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Add in shot-blocking ace Serge Ibaka and defensive-minded role players Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, and the front line in Oklahoma City is a strong as it's been since Durant's arrival in 2007.
That will have to carry over to the postseason, where seven-footers Bynum and Pau Gasol wait for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and high-fliers Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan await in that other L.A. uniform.
I believe it will, since the Thunder rotation has the depth and size to compete with nearly anyone in the West on their way out of the conference and into the title series.
Eastern Conference Finals
Call me crazy, but after the first two rounds of Eastern Conference playoff action, I feel that the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat will be battling it out to see who takes their squad to the NBA Finals.
The writing is on the wall: both teams have the top two records in the East.
Derrick Rose is hungry to avenge his 4-1 series loss last season, and LeBron James is eager to silence his critics by winning the first in a long line of championships he has promised the city of Miami.
That kind of clash could lead to a very messing ending.
With Chicago and Miami beating up on each other in a potential Game 7 matchup, Oklahoma City will likely have home court, where they score almost six points more per contest and sit at 19-4.
That kind of advantage won't make the West Finals any easier for the Thunder, assuming they make it that far.
But if they can, a beat up Chicago or Miami team in the Finals could spell for the first championship for the franchise since the 1979 Finals.
Of course this is all conjecture, and the Thunder might still be another year away from claiming a title. Who knows, we may be headed for a Bulls-Jazz remake in the form of the Thunder-Heat.
I'd pay to see that, and if you're a basketball fan, you should too.