In ESPN's infamous "Ultimate Team" standings, Ian Gordon of ESPN the Magazine wrote of the Thunder:
"Sure, the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant relationship has been endlessly dissected in the wake of the Thunder’s loss in the Western Conference finals. But how many teams — and fan bases — wouldn’t take the two 22-year-old stars? Add in 21-year-olds James Harden and Serge Ibaka and the Thunder have the kind of exciting young core that front offices dream about. Thunder GM Sam Presti is committed to building through the draft and not doling out precious cap money to expensive vets. Not like many FA are interested in Oklahoma anyway.
The Thunder’s meteoric rise in the past couple of years, from 57th overall in 2009 to sixth this year, is a direct result of on-court success. The franchise’s first visit to the Western Conference finals since 1996 (they were in Seattle then) allowed the organization to showcase its fan-friendly, frenzied atmosphere at the Oklahoma City Arena. So even on nights when Westbrook is shooting too much and KD is standing around on the wing, below-average ticket costs and rock-bottom beer prices (a $5 pint is a stone-cold bargain at an arena these days) keep Thunder fans rolling in, and satisfied.
The Thunder confidently ranked 12th in "Biggest bang for the buck" and fourth for "Fan relations." This mixture of affordability, coupled with a wild fanbase, is the largest reason this season, fans and critics suspect a deep Thunder run in the postseason.
Starting right is more than important for a young team—it's imperative.
And while many clubs coast into the shortened season, the Thunder's first 10 games of 11-12 are as difficult a stretch as any other on their schedule.
After all this and now, somehow, Howard decides he wants to stay?
At yesterday's Orlando Magic media day, Howard turned his needs to be traded. The star said, " there's no place I'd rather be than Orlando. I just want to make sure that we have the right things here so we can win a championship."
And that they can't.
But when comparing them to his two main suitors, a washed up Laker franchise and a ground dwelling Nets organization, the Magic have as much of, if not more of, a shot at winning than the two do.
I suspect a Dwight Howard reconciliation in Orlando will inspire his team. But the Thunder's lockdown defense will maximize points off turnovers.
A close bout heading into the fourth becomes not so close when the Magic go cold and Westbrook, Durant, Harden and Sefalosha get in the open court.
Thunder by 10.
As much as I like the dribble drive game of Barea, the signing makes no sense at all. The Wolves boast Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour at the point guard position. Now, a struggle for minutes lends to lack of tempo and rhythm, which quells offensive firepower.
And while K-Love is locked down by Serge Ibaka, the Thunder eat alive an insecure team in Minnesota.
Thunder by 15 to 20.
The do-it-all swing man is now a teammate of another do-it-all swing, Dirk Nowitski, making the Mavericks that much more unguardable.
With the ball in his hands quite a bit, Odom wears out Durant early on, and Dirk does as Dirk would do: knock down fall away jumpers.
Beurbois gets off of the bench; Terry hits tres droplets; Marion goes for a double double, and the Mavericks make the Thunder look like child's play.
Mavericks by a dozen.
Steve Nash is like a fine wine: The man gets better and better with age.
And though he's lost a step or two, the dribble drive maestro is still a wonder with the ball in his hands.
His penetration is the very thing the Thunder defense hates, and with kick outs to three point aficionados and a new dangerous athletic threat, Shannon Brown, the Suns burn a deflated Thunders team.
Nash gets off for his usual 10-plus assist, Grant Hill's pesky defense bothers Durant, Brown proves he's worth more than the one-year deal he signed with team and the duo of Dudley and Channing Frye pop for 20 apiece.
Suns in a surprising seven-point win.
I have a really bad feeling that early in the first week of play, Russell Westbrook will be trying to over compensate again.
And after his team's crushing blow to the reigning champs a week earlier, the young man will try and will his team to victory in Dallas.
Yet the veteran poise of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitski, Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom know better.
They know to calmly allow Russell his host of off-balance lay-ins while smoothly shutting down everybody else.
Lamar battles Durant and J-Kidd locks up spark plug James Harden.
Mavericks in a barn burner by five.
Poor Serge Ibaka.
From one dominate big man to another, the human fly swatter is challenged to the point of breaking. But what make Ibaka so great is that he plays with little fear for big name big men.
After battling Dirk twice in a matter of a week, it is now his turn to lock down Blazers franchise man LaMarcus Aldridge.
And while Aldridge somehow has his usual 20 and 10, Ibaka makes the man work, and the tired Aldridge loses sight of his teammates.
Biggest reason Thunder get back on track with a win? No Brandon Roy.
Reports have the methodical star opting for retirement because of ongoing knee issues. My thought and prayers go out to him.
Thunder by eight.
Which they don't have and the Thunder do.
The Rockets come into town and get swallowed by Thunder fans. A ruckus home court advantage with the beef inside to shut down undersized Luis Scola and K-Mart off the dribble erupts into a Thunder blow out win.
Thunder by 18.
Just one night earlier, the Thunder were blowing out the Rockets at home. But playing on the road is a different story.
The Rockets come out hot, K-Mart gets off and Scola is fired up.
But for the first time all season, James Harden asserts himself. The man expected to make a huge jump has been sub-par under the scrutiny of the expectations.
His play—25 points, five assists, three steals and two three-pointers—rallies the troops to another win.
Thunder by eight.
Tim Duncan looks old and tired—his 13 and nine last season proves my point.
And that is the reason the Thunder get a win at home against an always tough San Antonio Spurs team. The Spurs lack the legitimate shot blocker to keep Durant, Westbrook and Harden out of the lane.
All three drop 15-plus in the win, and the Spurs look slow-footed and old.
Thunder by 10.