Jun 11, 2012, 8:45 AM EST
It’s been building to this for years now — from way back when Kevin Durant was drafted (back in Seattle), followed by Russell Westbrook the next year and James Harden the year after that. Thunder GM Sam Presti was building something.
Now the Oklahoma City Thunder are on the doorstep of the teams’ first championship in its new city. What is it going to take to walk through that door?
Here are five keys for the Thunder.
1) Don’t be overwhelmed by the moment. Teams often have to learn how to deal with the next level of winning in the NBA — Michael Jordan and the Bulls lost three consecutive years to the Pistons in the playoffs before they had learned their lessons, improved enough and broke through to become legends. Oklahoma City has earned its way to this point, but the pressure and scope of the finals is different. And the Heat have been there, both as a team and multiple times as individuals. If the Thunder play up to their potential they can be NBA champions, but they can’t become overwhelmed.
2) Move the ball. Miami’s defense, with its active hands and long arms clogging passing lanes, can push teams into playing isolation basketball. Which is a habit the Thunder can happily fall into because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can be devastating isolation players. But in March meeting between these teams when Oklahoma City won handily they moved the ball and the result was Serge Ibaka with 19 points and Kendrick Perkins with 16. Move the ball like they did against the Spurs in their four wins, get open looks because of it and the Thunder will win this series.
3) James Harden has to have a monster series. James Harden is key for the Thunder in this series. Sure, Kevin Durant will score the most points because, well, he’s Kevin Durant. That’s what he does. And Russell Westbrook will put up numbers and make some athletic plays. But Harden is the X factor. First off, he is the guy who helps the Thunder live up to number two on this list — he is the playmaker who gets the ball movement the Thunder need. Go to Durant and Westbrook late in the game and it’s an isolation, go to Harden and you get a play. The other key is that the Heat are going to get next to nothing from their bench, but Harden comes off the bench and is a game changer for the Thunder. He can be in this series.
4) Defense. Oklahoma City was a pretty good defensive team this season (10th in the NBA in points allowed per possession), which is good enough when you have an explosive offense. But in this series they are going to have to step up their team defense. That starts with Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, who the Thunder will throw at Dwyane Wade and LeBron James for stretches. But it’s more than that, it’s the length and athleticism of the Thunder disrupting the passing lanes, their long arms contesting every jumper. They need to play their best defense of the season to get the Larry O’Brien trophy in their hands.
5) Kevin Durant has to be the finals MVP. There are people trying some revisionist history, suggesting Durant should have been the regular season MVP. No. LeBron was more efficient on offense and had far more defensive responsibilities than Durant. The right guy won.
But both of them would trade a regular season MVP for a finals MVP. Without blinking. Durant needs to be that here — he needs to score, do it efficiently and do it when his team needs it during games. He needs to make some defensive plays. He has been this team’s MVP for years and now he needs to be that on the biggest stage in basketball. If he wants to take the next step, this is it.
Sixers coach Brett Brown on whether we’ll see Nerlens Noel play this year: “It really is, ‘Who Knows?’”
Mar 7, 2014, 10:34 PM EST
Nerlens Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft, and the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for him in order to jumpstart their rebuilding process. But we have yet to see Noel take the floor for Philadelphia this season, in much the same way that Andrew Bynum missed his entire year with…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:05 PM EST
It’s been a frustrating season in Milwaukee, and it’s gotten to the point where the team’s players are taking out those emotions violently against their opponents. Ersan Ilyasova received a suspension for the punch-shove combo he delivered to Reggie Evans, and we can expect the same punishment to be handed down to O.J. Mayo, who…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:55 PM EST
The nationally televised schedule of games that appear on TNT Thursday nights is apparently etched in stone. There’s no other way to explain the network keeping a Clippers-Lakers game on the air when a perfectly good Suns-Thunder matchup — one between two high-scoring playoff teams — was on the slate the very same night. Logistics…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EST
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:25 PM EST
You can’t do that. Go ahead and argue that what Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova really did was shove the Kings’ Reggie Evans if you want, you still can’t do that. The two were battling for rebounding position and after the play Ilyasova turned on Evans punch/shoved him and knocked him to the ground. I have checked the NBA…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
The only time the Timberwolves seemed to take charge in their loss to the Knicks Wednesday night was in the third quarter when Nikola Pekovic took over. It’s not a shock if you’ve watched the Timberwolves this season — he averages 18 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting, the Minnesota offense is 4.7 points…
Woodson says ‘legally, no one can recruit anyone’ in response to Melo-Bulls talk. But that’s not necessarily true.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has enough to worry about, including whether he’ll even be employed by the team next season, before he can begin to think about what Carmelo Anthony may choose to do as a potential free agent this summer. The latest rumor, of course, had Anthony being told by the Bulls’ Joakim…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Here’s the real story: Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler are friends. They met as part of Team USA and like each other, text each other, have worked out together at points in the offseason. Like you with your friends, they like to poke fun at each other sometimes. So when Chandler said Love can’t play…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
This drives some fans crazy. Maybe they live in a mythical world where they think the players their team should share a hatred of their rivals/opponents. They like to believe that kind of hatred used to exist among players, as if Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley didn’t used to hang out and party together. Players…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:46 PM EST
No matter how his NBA head-coaching career unfolds, Brett Brown will always have a first-season losing record on his résumé. His 76ers will finish somewhere between 15-67 and 36-46 – likely much closer to the former. The 76ers struggling was no surprise. In fact, they’ve probably exceeded expectations. So why did Brown put himself in…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Phil Jackson has always done enough to ensure he remains on the radar for coaching vacancies (and now, front-office positions, too). And why shouldn’t he? Jackson is definitely one of the best coaches of all time, maybe even the best. I’m not convinced he can still physically withstand the rigors of coaching, but every hire…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:37 AM EST
Rudy Gay was inefficient as a Toronto Raptor. This is not up for debate. He attempted 17.6 shots per game in Toronto, making just 42.8 percent of the 2-pointers and 41.1 percent of all attempts. The only remaining question was whether Gay, who’s clearly not too fond of stats, knew he was inefficient as a…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:08 AM EST
Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his career the past few weeks and the Bulls are the third best team in the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose down and Luol Deng traded Noah has become the fulcrum of the Bulls offense, and it’s working as Noah has had a triple double in two…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Let’s connect the dots. Joakim Noah is reportedly recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls. Melo has a son named Kiyan, who turns 7 years old today. Happy Birthday, Kiyan! Kyian’s favorite player is reportedly Derrick Rose. The missing dot: Derrick Rose. What does he think about all this? Chris Broussard of ESPN: One source also…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
Is LeBron done with the mask, or is he just taking a break? Midway through the first quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Spurs, LeBron took his mask off during a timeout. He’d missed his only shot, and Miami trailed by eight. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire after that, shooting 6-for-18…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:33 AM EST
The Clippers beat the Lakers, 142-94, Thursday night – the biggest loss in Lakers history. In the spirit of Lakers schadenfreude, let’s dig a little deeper into the blowout: 48 – Margin of victory/defeat, the largest for the Clippers/Lakers in each franchise’s history 3 – Years since any team has been beaten so badly. The…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:46 AM EST
That feels pretty much how the last three quarters of the Clippers/Lakers game went Thursday night. The Clippers did whatever they wanted all night on the Lakers’ “defense” and that led to a few spectacular plays. The best of them was this ridiculous alley-oop dunk by Blake Griffin. Griffin finished with 20 points in the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
BOSTON – Game-planning for the Golden State last season, the Phoenix Suns wrote “Finesse” on their whiteboard. “Be physical with them, and they tend to back away,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who played for Phoenix last year. Now a Warrior, O’Neal didn’t hesitate to share the observation of their defense with his new teammates. “I told…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:35 AM EST
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering how you could read a novel in 90 minutes, well, there’s an app for that… Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns. If all you think Gerald Green can do is dunk, you need to watch the tape from Thursday night. It may have been true…
- Report: Knicks offer Phil Jackson a front office position 15
- Is Carmelo Anthony’s smart play to opt in and play out contract with Knicks? 14
- LeBron says he has open door policy, would certainly speak to Paul George 28
- Report: Knicks met with Phil Jackson about coaching them 42
- Extra Pass: Golden State Warriors defending at historically high level 5