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Kevin Durant's 2012 Olympics Will Propel OKC Thunder Back to NBA Finals

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States celebrates making a three point shot during the Men's Basketball gold medal game between the United States and Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympics Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2012

LeBron James has gotten the lion's share of attention since following up his first NBA championship with his second Olympic gold medal and justifiably so.

Just don't forget about Team USA cohort and Western Conference rival Kevin Durant.

While James led the United States in assists through its eight-game medal push, Durant averaged more rebounds, block and steals for the tournament. Oh, and he also led the team with 19.5 points per game while shooting an eye-popping 52 percent from behind the arc.

Thanks to his superstar teammates and size advantage over opposing wings, KD had it a little easier than he will in this season's postseason run.

But, the results may not be all that different.

Despite the Los Angeles Lakers' much-celebrated off-season moves, and the San Antonio Spurs' ever-present under-the-radar threat, Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder are poised to return to the NBA Finals with a vengeance.

It might be asking a bit much to expect Durant's hot hand to carry through the entire 2012-13 campaign, but the three-time scoring champion is no stranger to reigning jumpers on his helpless opposition.

If Russell Westbrook can continue to evolve as an electric shoot-first point guard, and James Harden can remain consistent for the duration of the playoffs, OKC could stand firmly in the way of a Miami Heat repeat.

Los Angeles improved its interior defense by adding Dwight Howard, but its unclear what kind of dividends that will pay against a team that lives and dies by the jump shot.

If the Thunder are clicking on all cylinders, it won't matter who's patrolling the painted area. 

Defensively challenged point guard Steve Nash certainly won't pose any defensive problems for the quicker and stronger Russell Westbrook. 

OKC could once again disappoint the Purple and Gold pride of the Western Conference en route to an attempt to improve upon a sudden five-game exit from the NBA Finals. Of course, the Spurs could have something to say about it after suffering a surprising let-down in the Western Conference Finals, but OKC's youth and determination may instead prove decisive once again.

Whatever opposition lies in his path, expect Durant to look even more the part of an MVP.

The 23-year-old seemingly improves by the minute, and his ability to lead a team when it counts will follow suit.

When he was 23, LeBron James fell flat against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, and it's safe to say the three-time MVP used the opportunity to learn a few things about success at the highest level.

Durant has surely done the same.

The Summer Olympics weren't just an opportunity for Durant to play with the best players in the world and absorb some wisdom via osmosis. It was also an opportunity for him and fellow Thunder Russell Westbrook and James Harden to forget about last season and enter the next on a more positive note.

OKC's superstars will enter this season champions after all, just not the kind their fans back in Oklahoma might have hoped.

A year's time just might change all that.

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