by Rudy Raya / @rudy_raya
The ripping, rumbling and roaring Thunder stormed through the NBA’s regular season, reeling off win after win. Not new to the spotlight, Oklahoma City began making noise last season after their heart wrenching loss to the Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Half a second away from taking the eventual NBA champs to an unexpected Game 7, “Laker luck” seemed to rear its ugly head once again as Pau Gasol won the game with an unlikely put-back following a Kobe miss. The young team entered the series with unknown expectations and emerged with a wealth of experience. With budding stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook beginning to blossom and the mid-season acquisition of former Celtic center, Kendrick Perkins, the forecast for any potential post-season opponent looks awfully cloudy.
Last season had to have been one of the worst welcomes to post-season basketball that a new franchise could possibly have. A clean sweep would have been quick and painless, but the way they lost must been like having your heart ripped out. Especially to the thousands of Oklahoma City residents who rallied around their new hometown heroes. But instead of letting it keep them down, the Thunder came out of it a more confident team, posting their second consecutive 50-win season. Kevin Durant, the team’s all-world talent and young leader, has all the points and accolades, but he knows that the most important part of the game is what happens in those closing moments.
“We know that on any night and any possession, you can get beat and it can cost you the season,” said Durant. “We know what it takes, but we also know how dreadful it is to lose in the last second, lose off one possession and things like that; so, we’re growing up.”
In only his fourth season, Durant is a lock to secure his second consecutive scoring title. And at the age of 22, it’s scary to think that he still has room to grow. His offensive abilities are practically endless. He maneuvers impressively through screens, and has the catch and shoot ability of a younger, taller, and somehow skinnier Ray Allen. Long and lanky, explosive and deadly, the Durantula has quickly crawled his way into the ranks of the NBA’s elite.
“We’ve been there before and that experience is a big teacher for us, we have some veteran guys here that have been through it all,” said Durant. “Our confidence is sky high and we just have to keep playing, keep being humble.”
But with all the tools to dominate every aspect of the game, this Batman is not without his Robin. With his freakish, frogish athletic ability, Russell Westbrook physically overshadows any other point guard in the League. Pumping up his production from over a year ago to an impressive 21 points and 8 assists per game, Russell acknowledges that the team still has a few more preparations that need to be made before the Playoffs begin.
“Being very defensive, that’s a key for us in taking that next step,” said Westbrook. “We know how physical it’s going to be and how tough it’s going to be. We just have to be ready.”
While questions may arise about the Celtics’ acquisition of former Thunder player, Jeff Green, the integration of Kendrick Perkins into the Oklahoma City frontline can only spell trouble for the rest out west. In this line-up of somewhat scrawny athletes, Kendrick Perkins is the big body on the block that the team has been lacking. Not wasting any time, Perkins has seamlessly acclimated to the Thunder’s style of play.
“You know one thing about me is that it’s not hard to fit in. It’s not like I need 20 looks or anything to that nature,” said Perkins. “I’m a guy who’s a role player, so I just go from there.”
As a sort of outsider with an insider perspective, Perkins sees his new team as more than just a talented young group of players.
“They’re guys who love winning, who love playing the game. You don’t really find that too much. They have a deep passion for the game and they take losses hard.
“I see a team that is starting to play well together. A team that thinks defense first. I see us getting better every day and we keep improving. I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Perkins.
Picking up where Jeff Green left off, James Harden has taken full advantage of his newfound minutes. Harden possesses a silent, but deadly shot, rim-rattling capabilities and last but not least, a boisterous beard –which he informed me is rather easy to maintain; requiring only a small amount of impetuous picking throughout the day.
Joining Perk down low is the ever-improving Serge Ibaka, or “Sir Chewbacca” as we call him in the streets. Ibaka has added a deadly mid-range jumper to go with his already devastating post defense. Ibaka and Perkins give OKC the speed, strength and size down low to match-up with any frontline in the League, including that of the Los Angeles Lakers.
What separates Oklahoma City from most other teams in the League is that they have a group of guys they know they can rely on each and every night. While other teams may have certain question marks in their roster, there is no questioning the skill or heart of any player who takes the floor for them. Each player has confidence in himself and in his teammates to make the right play. The Thunder are truly a team in a league full of players.