If you're one of the many who jumped off the Oklahoma City Thunder bandwagon when the team didn't sign James Harden to a max contract and then lost Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves, perhaps now would be a good time to hop back on.
That was never going to happen.
Going up against (arguably) the hottest team in the NBA on Sunday night, OKC's two biggest stars rose to the challenge and catapulted their team to a convincing 118-94 victory over the now 18-3 Indiana Pacers.
Durant was absolutely sensational, securing himself a double-double with 36 points and 10 rebounds on 14-of-23 shooting.
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Westbrook put up a double-double of his own, scoring 26 points and dishing out 13 assists. He was nearly on the brink of a triple-double with seven rebounds as well.
After trading Harden to the Houston Rockets before last season and then losing Martin, who was the key piece acquired in the deal for the bearded All-Star, to the Timberwolves this past offseason, things were starting to look bleak for Oklahoma City.
As good as Durant and Westbrook are, could they possibly go it alone with so many question marks surrounding them on the roster?
Serge Ibaka is undoubtedly one of the most athletically gifted frontcourt players in the league today, but his impact is felt more so on the defensive end with his career 2.6 blocked shots per game average. He's never been a slouch as it pertains to putting the ball in the basket (career 10.0 points scorer), but it's not an aspect of his game that can be relied on heavily.
Harden (16.8 points in 2011-12 with OKC) and Martin (14.0 points in 2012-13) were more potent scorers, able to shoot from all areas of the court and create their own offense. It took more pressure off of Durant and Westbrook and afforded them the luxury of knowing that the burden to score wasn't solely on them.
There were options. There was someone else on the team who could put up 15 to 20 points on any given night.
That's not the case anymore. General Manager Sam Presti didn't want to give Harden a huge sum of money when Ibaka was still in need of his own payday. He made the calculated decision to trade his reigning sixth man of the year to the Rockets for a package that included Martin, who would leave the following season.
Durant and Westbrook were now going to be called on to do even more.
There appears to be this universal belief that you need three star players to compete for and win an NBA championship, especially with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh finding so much success in South Beach.
Well someone didn't give Oklahoma City that memo because the duo of Durant and Westbrook are ready to show everyone that the two of them, plus a highly underrated bench that's been coming on strong as of late, is all this team needs to realistically make their championship aspirations come true.
Durant's 28.5 points not only leads the NBA, but is a full 2.9 points ahead of Carmelo Anthony, who ranks second. His rebounding (7.9 to 8.2) and assists (4.6 to 5) have both seen an increase this season, proving that the three-time scoring champion can make his presence felt in other areas.
At least 20 points a night is practically guaranteed. There have been only two games this season (November 1 against Minnesota and November 24 against Utah) where Durant has failed to reach that mark.
Westbrook has mostly seen his numbers fall across the board, but 20.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds are nothing to turn your nose at. With Derrick Rose out of the picture in Chicago, Westbrook now stands alone as the most powerful, explosive point guard there is. He's a game-changer in every sense of the word.
After their victory against Indiana, the Thunder now own a record of 15-4 (10-0 at home) which puts them third in the Western Conference and just one game shy of the Portland Trail Blazers (17-4) and their first place seed.
The team seems to be doing just fine, don't you think?
We're talking about two of the greatest basketball players on the planet in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. As long as they remain healthy and continue to win games and take names, how could you not have the Thunder right there in the thick of things come May and June?
Follow Featured Columnist/NBA Live Blogger Christopher Walder on Twitter at@WalderSports
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