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NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

Oct 8, 2012, 10:49 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook celebrates with small forward Kevin Durant during their NBA basketball game against Chicago Bulls in Oklahoma City Reuters

Last season: So freaking close.

The Thunder beat the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals in Oklahoma City by 11 points. A double-digit victory over he mighty triumverate. It was their fifth win in a row and they looked, as teams do when the win by double-digits, like the superior team in every way. Russell Westbrook couldn’t be stopped. Kevin Durant couldn’t be stopped. The Heat couldn’t keep up with their athleticism and offensive firepower.

They never won again that season.

The next three game were decided by 16 points total. The Heat won four straight, sending the Thunder home after another step forward but once again without the prize.

It was a season that showed considerable growth for the three stars, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. Durant became an even more efficient scorer and a better defender, Westbrook increased his production and cut down on his mistakes, Harden grew into a playmaker. The team overall, though, was much te same as it was the year before. Great offensively, pretty good defensively, dominant most of the time and exciting to watch. Defense was the only question, and in the end, it was the only one that mattered, as the grind-it-out style of the Heat wore them down and eventually bested them.

The Thunder had to have walked away from 2012 neither convinced that they could or could not win the title.

Key Departures: Nazr Mohammed played 11 minutes per game last season. He’s gone, so there’s that. That’s pretty much it. And, you know, there’s no real concerns on the horizon. Oh, wait, James Harden.

Key Additions: Perry Jones III plummeted down the draft board, all the way to the Thunder. With no concerns about how he would affect team chemistry or the expecations that would be heaped on him, the Thunder leapt at him and snatched him up. Jones gives them a versatile stretch four who can likely play 3 in some big lineups and has the potential to be an absolute steal if thigs work out right.

They brought in Hasheem Thabeet to replace Mohammed, which is fine. He has to come in, not be horrible, contest or block shots, and rebound. He will do just enough of this to not stand out while clearly still being the weakest link on the team.

How about Daniel Orton? Can I interest you in Andy Rautins? Care for some DeAndre Liggins? No? No? Anybody?

Three One keys to the Thunder season:

1) KEEP CALM AND THUNDER UP: The Thunder don’t need to adapt or change or alter. They don’t need to play differently or mix it up or make things more complex. They just need to do what they did last year.

They just need to show up, run, score, and rock. They are very fittingly the AC/DC of the NBA.

They just need to play better and hope the Heat aren’t as good as they were last year. Bear in mind that in all these other previews I can give you in-depth reasons and tactical adjustments, lineup or chemistry tweaks, philosophical or pragmatic deviations necessary for improvement. I have none for the Thunder. They just need to play a little better. That’s all I’ve got.

What Thunder fans should fear: Chemistry is the thing. This team has accomplished remarkable things at a young age, all built on the strength of their bond with one another. Young players who came up together in a small market with few distrctions who liked each and liked playing with and for one another.

But business has come. Westbrook got his extension, but there are people, even those in Oklahoma City who think that eventually, he’s going to want the opportunity to show what he can be as the main act. James Harden’s contract is on the clock. If it gets done, the Thunder have to plan for their future. If it doesn’t, they have to figure out what to do with him.

This team has exemplified fun and youth for three years, and it’s been an incredible ride. But it’s extremely rare for a team like this to stay together as they get older and the money gets bigger. It’s like the circle of life, only with publicists.

How it likely works out: It’s going to come down to the Lakers or them for the West. There is zero doubt in anyone’s rational, objective mind about this. It’s just a matter of whether Perkins can contain Dwight enough, if Durant can lift his game to another level, if Westbrook can out-produce Nash since neither can defend the other.

There is no way to tell who’s going to come out of it. It’s going to be extremely fun, and there will be many who will want to just skip right to it.

Prediction: 63-19. They have no injury concerns. They have the league’s second best player and best offensive weapons. They have twolegitimate MVP candidates. Their shot-blocking defensive star has reliable mid-range jumper. They have depth, youth, experience, energy, athleticism, skill, and are very, very hungry. The Lakers may have arrived once more. The Thunder are already here.

  1. cosanostra71 - Oct 8, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    don’t understand the dig at Westbrook not being able to defend in the same mold as Nash… Westbrook is a much better defender than Nash…

  2. jerdogthompson - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    Bring in the Thunder baby. Only team to beat them 3 outta 4 games last season?

    It’s a new season with new hopes,players, aspirations….,,,,,,

    It’s all good, we shall see who stands upon the West in no time shortly.

  3. brokerhenry - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are a damn good team. They are very well put together. The Miami Heat are also very good. The year the Heat first came together, we heard how they could not beat the good teams. At one time, they were 1 and 12 against teams with winning records. They then got to the finals and wilted under intense pressure form the Mavericks. This past season, the Heat withstood everything the Thunder threw at them and they won the championship. They won because their main guys played insane minutes and with the burning desire to not be disbanded and branded a failure. It also helped that they were able to masticate on all the hatred directed their way and derive energy from that hate.

    In 2010 the Miami Heat had no depth. The Thunder had a great bench. In 2011 the Heat had a so so bench. In 2012 the Heat are loaded. They do not have a true great center, but with Bosh playing the 5, they will make do. I believe that last year was the last time anyone could beat the Heat. If they are healthy come playoffs time, NO ONE(!) is stopping these guys. These guys want to win. LeBron wants to take Dan Gilbert’s face to a meat saw and then ask him how is rear end tastes.

    The Heat will open with Bosh at Center, LeBron at Small Forward or Power Forward, Battier at Power Forward or Small Forward, Dwyane Wade at Shooting Guard and Mario Chalmers at Point Guard. Depending on the opposing line up, they may start Ray Allen in place of Mario Chalmers and LeBron will play Point Forward. I think the league is in for a rude treatment from these guys. I think the Heat are going to go for the Bulls record number of wins and I think they will finish number one overall in the East. I don’t see them getting the wins record because Coach Spoelstra will rightly let them know that is not their main target.

    I do not see Dwyane Wade or LeBron attempting any shots beyond 12 feet of the basket unless it is wide open. There just is no need for it. LeBron is slashing to the basket with D-Wade and Bosh will be 12 to 18 feet from the basket. I see Dwyane and LeBron setting free throw records this year. Ray Allen and Battier will not attempt any shots from within the arc. How in the world can anyone beat the Heat with their emasculating defense? Not happening. No way.

    • passerby23 - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      Thanks for the long-winded post about the Heat on the OKC Thunder review page. The title is no gimme for the Heat this year, although I still think they are the favorites. My pick is the Lakers right now.

      As for OKC, I think 63 wins is a bit high. I think they will go 60-22 and secure the 2nd seed again. Should be an epic showdown with the Lakers again.

    • tk41 - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      Looks like Brian Windhorst has a pseudonym!

  4. paulhargis53 - Oct 9, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Spoken like a true homer, henry.

    There is a couple of old adages.

    Games are not won on paper.
    That’s why they play the games.

    You’d do well to rememv

    • brokerhenry - Oct 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

      @Paulhargis: You are absolutely right that games are not won on paper. Last season, Mike Wilbon, Jim Rome, Tony Kornheiser, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and many more picked the Thunder to win in 5 games or 6 because they were the better more complete team on paper. The Heat were having none of that. This year, the Heat are deeper than they were last year and will face either the Lakers or the Thunder unless something unthinkable happens to derail one of the three teams listed. The chances of that happening in under one percent. LeBron has seen how winning is like an aphrodisiac. I am telling you right now. The Miami Heat will steamroll everybody in such a way that we have not seen in a long time. They will win this thing. My prediction is that the Boston Celtics will not win one game against this bunch in the Eastern Conference Finals. If that happens, my prediction of a repeat will happen. These guys are not losing this year. By the way, I am not Brian Windhorst. I just moved from Margate, Florida to Sydney, Australia.

  5. michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 9, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Russell Westbrook is a phenomenal athlete and basketball player but he took a step back last season. His assists per game went from 8 in 2010, 8.2 in 2011, to 5.5 last year. Some of that is the result of the offense running through Durant more frequently, but the rest is Westbrook trying to prove something with his touches. Rather than facilitating the offense he was trying to score points which isn’t good for the Thunder. His usage rate jumped a point last year and he took twice as many 3’s at a lower percentage.

    The Thunder also finished dead last in assists. They remind me of the late 80’s Bulls where every guy played played 1-on-1 offense, trying to get theirs because the star was going to get his regardless. They were still effective offensively but they could be unstoppable with some ball movement and play-calling.

  6. michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 9, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    OKC Thunder finished 9th in defensive efficiency. It seems odd to me that a team starting 3 defensive specialists (Perkins, Ibaka, Sefolosha) wouldn’t break the top-5. It might be time to admit that Perkins is too slow to be effective against athletic/quick teams and just a disaster on offense. The Heat always made a run when Perkins was on the floor in the finals because he couldn’t guard any of the Heat forwards. I’m not saying they should go small-ball like everybody else but they need more versatility at center.

  7. connaniii - Oct 9, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    Hey Moore, have you ever heard of a guy named Serge Ibaka? you don’t even mention the guy; and although he’s got to improve on his defence and post play he’s the best freaking shot blocker in the whole darn league!

  8. dysraw1 - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    this is the guys i picked last year to go all the way,this year i know sounds crazy but i like the Nuggets.

  9. KOBEshigawa - Oct 26, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Basically, the Thunder just have to be good enough to win three more games, right? Not so much. The key to this season for them will be if they can defend better with the best players on the floor. As dynamic as Westbrook, Durant and Harden are offensively, they have to be able to lock teams down like Bosh, Wade and Bron do in crunch time. This way, Perkins can stay off the floor and the team will be able to go small with Ibaka and Maynor, and thus a more potent team towards the end of games. The Thunder need to step up in this way not just to beat Miami, but keep pace with the Lakers and a Spurs team that they were lucky to beat last year – http://thegreatmambino.blogspot.com/2012/10/winning-three-more-games-oklahoma-city.html

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