NBA Playoffs 2011 Schedule: Can Oklahoma City Thunder Live Up to Playoff Hype?
The 2011 NBA Playoffs schedule is all set, and while many people are predicting big things from the Oklahoma City Thunder, do they have what it takes to compete for an NBA Championship?
The Thunder have shown dramatic improvements over each of their past three seasons in Oklahoma City. Their wins have increased, their playoff positioning has gotten better, and they have a more well rounded team surrounding Kevin Durant, including the emerging Russell Westbrook and the newly acquired Kendrick Perkins.
Expectations are high for the Thunder, but are they really ready to take the next step in the 2011 NBA Playoffs and win a series or two?
That remains to be seen.
Aside from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, Durant and Westbrook may be the most dynamic offensive duo in the game today. Both are capable of dropping over 30 points on any given night, while Westbrook could turn into a triple-double machine as his career progresses.
Perkins finally gives the team an inside presence who brings experience and toughness - two things that the Thunder have been in dire need of for years.
With Serge Ibaka getting more time and having a one man block party almost every game and James Harden giving the team huge minutes in a reserve role, pieces are in place for Oklahoma City to make a run in the postseason.
But looking good and getting the job done are two entirely different beasts.
I do see the Thunder getting past the Denver Nuggets in the first round. This is a team where home court is truly an advantage. The fans are incredibly supportive of their home team. They owned Denver in the regular season, and this is the year they advance past the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
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Playing the San Antonio Spurs in the second round most likely will prove to be a much more difficult task for the Thunder to get to the Western Conference Finals. I think they stand a great chance at upsetting the No. 1 seed out west, but a lot will depend on the guard play.
As great as Westbrook is, he turns the ball over far too often. If he does it against the Spurs, they will make him pay for it more often than not.
But it depends on the health of San Antonio's backcourt. Manu Ginobili may miss game one of their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, and if his injury is worse than initially feared, the Spurs could be in for a bit of trouble.
Many people are making the Thunder the trendy pick to advance to at least the conference championship, and even perhaps the NBA Finals. While I would love to see that happen for such a young team, I am not sure if they will be able to take that next step forward.
Especially if that means getting past the Los Angeles Lakers in the semifinals. I know they gave them a run for their money last season in the first round, and adding Perkins helps, as he is very familiar with the Lakers, and does not attempt to hide his feelings of hated toward them.
But like they say, in order to be the champs, you must beat the champs. I'm just not sure that the Thunder are ready to beat the champs quite yet.
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