2012 NBA Finals: Why OKC Thunder Will Be Last Western Franchise Standing

Joye PruittSenior Analyst IDecember 21, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react in the first half while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There is no disputing or overlooking the fact that the Miami Heat are generally favored in the polls of who will be the residing NBA champions going into next season.

They have only fueled the preseason predictions by a strong showing against a festering Dwight Howard and Orlando Magic team. Everyone is waiting for LeBron James to prove himself, Dwyane Wade to win his second ring and Chris Bosh to win his first as well.

Miami’s bench depth has improved in the offseason as well, with the acquirement of Shane Battier and the drafting of Norris Cole. The future looks brighter than it had when the franchise had barely any reserves.

What people are barely talking about are the Western Conference possibilities of who the Miami heat may face in the 2012 NBA finals. There are plenty of opponents emerging from the West that could give the Heat a run for their money, but only a few actually have a true chance at reaching and passing the Western Conference finals.

Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder seem like the most apt organization to compete against Miami in the finals because of all of the pros they have on their side compared to teams like the Lakers and the Mavericks.

  • Mavericks: Pros – Veteran leadership, experience, returning NBA champions, pure scorer, veteran point guard
  • Cons – No more Tyson Chandler, no Caron Butler (same as last year due to injury), no JJ Barea, age


  • Lakers: Pros – Kobe Bryant, experience, rejuvenated Pau Gasol, possibly solid Andrew Bynum
  • Cons – New head coach, new coaching staff, weak at the point, over-the-hill Kobe Bryant, possibly flopping Andrew Bynum

These are the only two teams that have the ability to stop OKC in their tracks, but the mounting questions about the additions and subtractions on their roster stop some from believing they can make it happen.

The Thunder have their share of problems, however, none equate the issues that the Mavericks or the Lakers are experiencing.

For one, the Thunder have an undeniable edge in age. They are a young team, which they are usually criticized for when making deeper and deeper runs into the postseason. A posed question will continue to be that they are too young and immature on the court and within the locker room to beat out more experience veteran teams like the Lakers and the Mavericks.

However, it should be amply reviewed that the Thunder have come closer and closer to the finals in each of Kevin Durant’s seasons. That is no mistake, nor is it a fluke.

The biggest issue standing in Durant’s way of a championship berth and ring is his prince point guard, Russell Westbrook. Durant is the leader of the team, but Westbrook is the engine that can ensure how many touches Durant gets, create the perfect shots from the perfect spots on the floor and use his own athletic ability to grant himself a few points here and there.

Westbrook’s maturity is going to be this squad’s X-factor, and from watching the edgier Thunder against the more fundamental Mavericks, one can only predict that they have gotten any irritations or questionable behavior under control.

Oklahoma City has so much potential and in this shortened season, while all others may seem to falter, they will emerge because of everything they have been tossed aside for.

Youth, exuberance, raw emotion and athletic ability over fundamentals.