Is There Skepticism Despite OKC’s Monster Season?

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OKLAHOMA CITY –
So just how good are the Oklahoma City Thunder and will it be good enough?

By the numbers, OKC is producing a season for the ages. Yet there seems to be doubt as to whether the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, minus third amigo James Harden, can get out of the West, let alone beat the Heat. Charles Barkley, for one, has already buried the Thunder in a potential Finals rematch.

There have been suggestions that the Thunder have long grown bored with the regular season, antsy to start the only season that really matters now for a franchise that’s all grown up. Others have claimed that individual selfishness has seeped into the team concept.

The Thunder, of course, aren’t buying it.

“Of course we all want the opportunity to go back and try to fight again for a championship,” Durant said. “After losing last year we wanted to get back as quick as possible. But we know throughout the year it’s a process and we want to get better each and every game. We’re going to have some games where, of course, we’re going to slip up and we’re going to have some bad games, but that’s all part of the journey. The time is almost here so we’ve got to be ready.”

Let’s start with what truly has been a jaw-dropping season for OKC yet is lost amid Miami’s 27-game winning streak and LeBron James‘ MVP brilliance.

At 55-20 after Thursday’s 100-88 win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. With five wins in their final seven games (starting tonight at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass) they can reach 60 for the first time since 1997-98 as the Seattle SuperSonics.

And they’re amassing those wins with incredible efficiency, tied for the league lead in scoring (106.0 ppg) while ranking second in field-goal percentage defense (42.5). Their plus-9.2 point-differential dwarfs Miami’s 7.7 while playing in the tougher conference, and it stands to be the largest point-differential since the 2007-08 champion Boston Celtics posted a plus-10.2.

In that season, the Sonics were making their swan song and opened 3-29. They finished 20-62. Every season since in OKC, the Thunder have increased their winning percentage. Currently at .733, they’re riding a better clip than last season’s .712 mark, and assuming they finish the season with a .700 or better winning percentage, they’ll join the Celtics teams from 1955-60 as the only teams to increase their winning percentage for five consecutive seasons while maintaining a .700 or better winning percentage in two of those seasons.

Then there’s the individual dominance of Durant, who is considered a distant second to James in the MVP race. If Durant can hold off Carmelo Anthony‘s late charge (and they meet at OKC on Sunday afternoon), he will win his fourth consecutive scoring title. He’s still on pace to become the sixth player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line. No player has ever done both in the same season.

On top of that, Westbrook is compiling his best all-around season. Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka are posting their best offensive seasons, and new sixth man Kevin Martin, despite some lulls, is averaging 14.0 ppg and shooting a career-best 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Sounds like they might be better than last season.

“I’m not going to evaluate and say whether they’re as good, better or worse [than last season] or anything like that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’re a championship-caliber team and they’re capable of winning the championship. And that’s what’s important.”

So why is there at least some apprehension to declare the Thunder the outright favorite to defend their West crown? A lot has to do with their surprising record against the other top teams in the West. The Nuggets, suddenly hit hard by injuries to Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, took three of four from OKC. Memphis won two of three, including 90-89 Monday night.

And Thursday night a Spurs team that was without Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson, plus a gimpy Tony Parker who was finally shut down in the fourth quarter with two points due to a leg injury, trailed just 87-84 with five minutes to play after rallying from three separate double-digit deficits. OKC held on to tie the series, 2-2.

The Lakers, a very real possibility for an intriguing first-round showdown, nearly pulled off a similar comeback one month ago that would have given them the season series, 2-1. The Heat won both regular-season matchups including a wire-to-wire stomping on OKC’s home floor in February. Thursday’s win against San Antonio was OKC’s first against a current West playoff team in four tries, and they’re 4-5 in their last nine against West playoff clubs.

When OKC is at its best, playing at a frenetic pace, swarming defensively and running the floor, it seems impossible for a team like the Spurs with three high-mileage stars — two of which aren’t currently healthy — surrounded by young, talented role players, to keep up in a seven-game series. They didn’t last season, losing four straight after taking a 2-0 lead at home in the West finals. Without homecourt advantage, the Spurs’ chances would seem even more bleak.

Injuries to their two leading scorers have likely made the Nuggets, convincing winners at OKC two weeks ago, vulnerable. The Clippers have looked incoherent in recent weeks. Rugged Memphis? As good a shot as anybody.

“We’re in a good spot,” Westbrook said. “There’s always room for improvement, but we’re in a good position.”

Only the playoffs will tell us if good is good enough.

39 Comments

  1. sanjay says:

    OKC wont win period! They may come out of west coast only to be buried by heat again( charles agrees here)! They are just 2 man team with west brook taking all the shots and virtually half of his shots are amateurish( just post up and shoot). It is disappointing to see him not improve even after a year( the coach has to bench him for few games). The thunder do not share the ball at all unlike the heat who are excellent in that aspect!

    And no body seams to have noticed that lanky durant does not have legs in the deep games when challenged relentlessly( he has not added any muscle even after a year)
    ibaka can be the man but they wont let him be there.

    so thunders have lot of pieces missing to be ” the team”

  2. Carl says:

    I’m pretty sure that this article gave more reasons as to why there SHOULD’NT be any apprehension to the Thunder winning the West again, as opposed to why there should be.

  3. MJfromOKC says:

    Not skepticism but optimism. Just because Miami is a lock for the title doesnt mean OKC doesnt deserve a shot as much as anyone else who actually wins the West.

    Ive noticed Jeff Caplan writes a lot of negative articles on the Thunder but thats ok. The media does not dictate what goes down on the floor.

    Lebron is 27 and a half years old, Kevin Durant is 24 and a half. Those are two important years of growing and working out. Jordan didnt win his first title until he was 27 due to needing to grow physically.

    Optimism.

  4. jake s. says:

    Miami just won the lottery, it’s not hate it’s just a fact.

  5. Antony says:

    They are one of the bests teams in the entire NBA,but like the last year,they dont have the experience of some many players in the nba to really win a Ring,you have the battle between westbrook and durant,they dont have the berad on they said,they have defense on ibaka,but they dont have the force in the offensive paint,ibaka cant post perkins cant post they dependes soooo much on durant and westbrook,whit out they the thunder dont have a chance to win a championship

  6. AK says:

    None of this matters come playoff time. They are a very well rounded and talented team with the capabilities to beat anyone in the league on a given night. I bet they will return to the finials, but they won’t beat the heat in a 7 game series, as long as the heat stay healthy.

  7. Holy Moly says:

    Why do all people keep talking about lakers as if they are in the playoffs already? :D

  8. Bringing the HEAT says:

    Im reading some of these comments LOL OKC will not match up against Miami this year and San Antonio sure as hell wont either… They just lost to Miami WITH Parker AT home .. WITHOUT LeBron AND Wade AND Chalmers … This Miami’s year to repeat

    • fireyes says:

      Just a reminder that the last several Spurs vs OKC and SPurs vs heat matchups have also been with Spurs ending 4 in 5 and 7 games in 10 nights while both OKC and the heat had 5 days off. Bench or not that is alot of rest when SA is in game heavy schedule. That will not be the case in the playoffs. Spurs can beat the Heat, OKC cannot

  9. Arky says:

    The point differential being better than Miami has a lot to do with Miami being far more prone to sitting their stars during blowouts (for the entire 4th on many occasions) and their complete disinterest with piling on the margin when blowing teams out.

    Look, after last year’s Finals with the Heat seemingly even better and deeper while the Thunder lost Harden, it’s natural to be sceptical of the Thunder’s chances, but with Durant and Ibaka particularly having stepped up their games they have as good a chance as any team outside Miami of winning the whole shebang.

  10. W/E says:

    Lets hope that they dont make it to the finals cause it will be ugly like last year, Miami will dominate and the finals will be so boring.

    • OKC says:

      All of the Heat fan boys and Westbrook haters are just going to make it that much sweeter when we win it all this year.

    • Lloyd says:

      Okc took game 1 the refs blew a crucial foul call in a close game 2 every game except the final one was close and James Harden went missing in the finals the whole series we will be just fine just like the Heat took a L in the finals the previous year you learn and move on we will win it all THUNDERUP! Got the nerve to say LBJ owns KEV please he averaged 30 in the finals this dude finally wins and now yall want be all on his b@ll$ like he Jordan or sumthin all haters need to fade back like Lebrons hair line!

      • bigwes95 says:

        @ Lloyd. just hope that LBJ isn’t as greedy with rings like MJ was. Lebron stepped up and the thunder didn’t, LeBron now knows what it takes and now that he knows, probably won’t stop winning until he’s old and past his prime. Durant didn’t step up and couldn’t guard LeBron for his life, that’s why Durant got into foul trouble, LeBron kept getting past him and Durant had to foul him. some fouls were iffy, but still. and game 2, LeBron purposely fouled him because THEY HAD A FOULD TO GIVE ANYWAYS! he fouled him because he knew he had a good shot, not because he thought he cold get away with it. and harden disappeared, so you think martin or anyone on the bench will be able to take harden’s place? if not for harden destroying SAS in the WCF, they wouldn’t have won. all those games with the spurs and thunder were a lot closer than you think, and harden was the one making the big shots in that series, not Durant or westbrook. and MJ and LeBron were the same age when they won their first championship, so he could definitely win 6 or more. I think that would take a little luck, but he can get it.

  11. Guy J says:

    Caplan –

    P.S. I will be happy to host you for any Thunder home game (regular season or playoffs) so you can determine. My season tickets are immediately in front of the radio deck. I would love to have you as a guest.

  12. Guy J says:

    Hmmm. Selfishness? Based on unsourced, primate opinion? Caplan — How many Thunder games have you attended this season? Did you obtain quotes yourself, or did you read wire copy? Personally, I think that this blog is no better than what I see writtenin high school papers. Do your homework. You lose any credibility when you write rubbish like this.

    You ask several questions, but fail to take a stance on answering any of them. Are you too timid to take a firm stance like Charles Barkley?

  13. OKC will be fine in the west as the only legitimate challenge may be their potential first round match-up with the Lakers. Though the Lakers have been flagrantly inconsistent over the year, the game will slow down in the playoffs, the Laker bigs will go toe to toe with OKC’s front line, and Kobe Bryant won’t go quietly. Also important to note that the Laker’s were only a few turnovers away from taking a commanding lead against OKC last year.
    The other teams left in the west that can contend either lack experience or the youth needed to keep up in a 7 game series. The losses the OKC Thunder had to Western Conference playoff teams over the course of the year will be easily rectified with home court advantage and day’s off in between games with the same team. There are too many factors that play apart in regular seasons losses such as fatigue, disinterest, and back to nights. That won’t be a problem in the playoffs and rest will favor OKC. They will either be dethroned by the Lakers or repeat as Western Conference champs.

    Twitter: @B_Wellington – Hit me up

  14. THE_GREATEst says:

    Even if they make it to the finals they will be beaten again by the mighty HEAT. AS long LBJ stands on KD’S way he has no chance to become a champion! HEATPEAT!!!

    • OKC!! says:

      Well Miami wont make it to the Finals anyway, the Knicks will shut them down just like they did in the regular season everytime. New York beat Miami by 20 once with Carmelo and beat them by 20 without Carmelo. It will be the Knicks and Okc in the finals and Okc will win it.

      • Be Realistic says:

        hahahah You have a great imagination lol…… Regular season means nothing. Just like last year when the knicks struggled to win a game vs Miami. 7 games series show that Knicks cant shoot 60% from 3′s for 7 games!

      • Snook987 says:

        They did fairly well Sunday! Who’s the scoring leader now?

  15. Rob says:

    OKC is a great team but no match to the Spurs when Parker is on the floor.

  16. Cre says:

    Doesn’t matter what the Thunder does they can’t beat the Miami Heat. I’m a Lakers fan, now if the Lakers don’t make Finals this year I def want a team capable of beating Miami to go to the Finals (I hate the Heat). Let the Spurs take care of them this is much bigger than OKC’s ego trip. You can win another year when Westbrook is done trying to be Batman- not your team buddy.

  17. sallas07 says:

    Very well written un-biased article, they are not a young imature team now, they have been to the finals now what’s left is for them to win it. Will they get a championship? Well I agree that we will just have to watch the playoffs to see that.
    (not a OKC fan)

  18. mina hanna says:

    NBA has mad a major error as San Antonio Spurs are the number one eam in the NBA. OKC has not yet takin the number one spot from the spurs. Both teams have the same record but San Antonio has beatin OKC more, so in conclusion San Antonio wins the tie breaker and are number 1 not OKC.

    • Mark says:

      Look at the tiebreaker procedures…. OKC and SA went 2-2 in head to head matchups and since they are not in the same division the next tiebreaker procedure to use is the conference record, which clearly OKC has a better record in that category…. Do your homework before you make a comment saying the NBA screwed up…..#Rookie

  19. OKC always have Skepticism on winning as long as they have Russel Westbrook on their team

  20. Kamote says:

    I think the key for OKC to become champs is Serge Ibaka to further develop his defensive skills. I know he just fell short in getting the DPOY last year, but I can still see his potential to becoming one of the best defenders of all time. Aside from his shot blocking (which is a given), he should develop more as a lock down defensive player, from the strong (DH, ZBo), to the skilled (TD, KG), to the gifted (LBJ).

    Especially if they face the Heat again in the finals, he should be the one taking on LBJ (he should be able to match LBJ’s quickness) and KD be on Bosh (while Thabo on Wade). He should be able to not only block shots, but also needs to be very physical and has that mental capability of getting under his opponent’s skin (think Rodman that block shots). If he reaches his full potential as one of the best defenders in NBA history, then that would really help them win the title.

    • bigwes95 says:

      I agree until the second paragraph/statement. ibaka can’t guard LeBron, LeBron is faster and probably stronger, just because someone is taller people think they’re stronger. and LeBron is too smart to fall for a 1-on1 defensive scheme, which what it seems like suggesting for any of these players. and rodman only averaged 0.6 blocks a game, ibaka couldn’t get into people’s head like the worm, and not to mention rodman also led the league in rebounding for an NBA record 7 years! ibaka most likely never will lead the league.

  21. Lakers says:

    Well, I wonder how a first-round exit will fit into OKC’s plans

    • NHbleedsGREEN says:

      by the time Kobrick plays every sec of every game BEFORE the playoffs start
      he will be outta juice and faking another injury before we know it.

    • Gary Payton says:

      If not the first, definitely the second round!