Philippines, 29 May 2024
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OKC Thunder can be serious NBA title contender, too

Can the Oklahoma City Thunder do what the Dallas Mavericks did six years ago?

Like the Thunder, that 2011 Mavericks team was built around future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki whose liabilities and shortcomings caused people to doubt his team as a legitimate title contender.

Nobody questioned Nowitzki?s reputation as an All-NBA player in 2010-11, but nobody took his team seriously that season even though the Mavericks had surrounded him with excellent role players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd, who covered for his defensive shortcomings.

Despite all this, the Mavericks made it to the Finals after steamrolling the Blazers, Lakers and Thunder in the West. Everybody knew what happened next: Dirk made mockery of Miami Heat defenders, Rick Carlisle put LeBron James? mind in a pretzel, and NBA commissioner David Stern handed Mark Cuban the Larry O?Brien Trophy, albeit reluctantly.

Could the same happen for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder? Could this roster constructed to cover for Westbrook?s defensive allergies quietly round into form this spring and peak during the playoffs?

It looks the 2017 MVP and teammates need more than luck against such a competitive Western Conference field. But experts and plain fans alike saw it happen with Nowitzki, and the sweet-shooting German didn?t even have anyone named Paul George on his team. So why not at least give the Thunder a puncher?s chance.

The Thunder, who couldn?t even get past the first round last season, re-signed George. OKC disposed of an ineffective, one-dimensional Carmelo Anthony and turned to a talented, yet enigmatic point guard Dennis Schroder this summer.

And a potential three-and-D wing Timoth? Luwawu-Cabarrot. The Thunder also took a low-risk, high-reward flyer on the once-promising Nerlens Noel. All three of these acquisitions are young, athletic and have the ability to be high-level defenders.

Trading Anthony, likewise, opened up more minutes for the likes of Jerami Grant and Andre Roberson. Although the offense wasn't quite the same, when the Thunder were at their best last season, they absolutely overwhelmed teams with their defense and rebounding, which resembled the 2016 Thunder when they jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals against the pre-Kevin Durrant Warriors, the eventual champs.

To win a championship though, the team would need Westbrook to do something he?s struggled to do his entire career: play like a team man. Under no circumstance should he shoot the ball 43 times (and scores only 46 points) like he did in the elimination game against the Jazz.

If the Thunder want to advance in the playoffs, Westbrook needs to facilitate and keep his teammates involved on the offensive end, because the Warriors and other contenders are not about lose a seven-game series to a one-man team ? just ask LeBron.

Could this be the year Westbrook finally grasps that concept?

To borrow from the name of Westbrook?s foundation, ?Why Not?"

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.

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