POSTED ON APRIL 20, 2011:
Our Team, Too
It's time for all Oklahomans to Thunder up
The Oklahoma Thunder will make the NBA Finals this season. Take it to the bank. Now for a couple of addendums.
Yes, they are the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it is time for all of Oklahomans to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. Our traditional media may ignore the state's only professional team, but not here. Perhaps if they marketed themselves as a college, the traditional media would jump and spin. But I digress.
Sooners, Cowboys, Hurricanes and nomad Razorback fans can unite. Oklahoma sounds more inviting to bewildered basketball fans that stubbornly remain loyal to out-of-state teams. Dump'em.
I have developed a close and personal relationship with Brian Davis, Grant Long and Kelly Crull. Could this imaginary television connection color my views? Absolutely, but it is doubtful. "We" are making a run.
"I almost feel hesitant to make a statement like that because I'm saying to myself I am drinking the Kool-Aid too," said dailythunder.com's contributing writer Royce Young. "I have to chill out. The thing is a lot of the national people picked this team since Kendrick Perkins was acquired. They seem capable of (winning it all)."
Young graduated from the University of Oklahoma and decided a daily newspaper grind was not for him. He started a Thunder blog just to exercise his writing skills. This coincided with the team's relocation from Seattle. A month later, an ESPN managing editor Facebook'd Young and three years later, he prides himself as the eyes and ears for the Thunder fans.
"I go to almost every home game," Young said. "It's an interesting world of journalism now. I'm an unabashed fan. I'm a homer. I use 'we' a lot when talking about the team. It's against everything I learned in school at OU."
It all makes sense. The Thunder is a young, exciting group. They hang together like college dorm mates. At times, mainstream media can paint a picture that simply is not true. Two Thanksgivings ago, we thought Tiger Woods was a model citizen. But the Thunder is the real deal.
"I remember when the new Call of Duty game came out," Young said. "These guys love to play video games. They all, or at least all of the younger guys, had a copy of it in their hand. This was after a game.
"They were talking about whose house they were going to play at that night. I'm blown away by that. Most guys after a game they want to go home or go eat dinner with some friends. Their entourage is each other."
Young also covers the NBA for CBSsports.com. He's been in the other locker rooms. Opposing teams may be tight, but nothing like the camaraderie the Thunder display.
A year ago the Thunder pushed the Lakers to the brink in the first round. They were too young to close out games. The experience factor as much as the Kobe factor toppled the team.
This year another basketball truism will be tested by Coach Scott Brooks' squad. Can a cohesive unit willing to battle for one another overcome their lack of experience and relative youthfulness?
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook garner the majority of the praise. They were the top one-two scoring combo in the league statistically. Move over LeBron and D-Wade.
"If they play well, the Thunder can beat anybody," Young said. "They are a top-five offensive team because of those two guys."
And like most sports, defense wins championships. The scoring is in place and thanks to two trade deadline moves, the rim is protected.
Being able to start Kendrick Perkins and have Serge Ibaka play his natural power forward position is huge. Ibaka was being forced to close out games at center. He was undersized and overmatched on the blocks. Now he can fly around the court and create scrambles.
Then just when the opposing team sees them head to the bench, Brooks sends out Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison.
"I can think of three games the Thunder would not have won without Mohammed on the floor," Young said. "That has been a really underrated deal. Before that, they were playing Collison and Ibaka at a position they are not that capable of playing. Now those guys can play their minutes at power forward where they settle in while Perkins and Mohammed handle the block."
When Durant and Westbrook take a breather the scoring punch is James Harden. Trading away Jeff Green has really opened up Harden's game. It is always fun watching a lefty dribble-drive to the hoop.
The fourth-seeded Thunder drew the pesky, resurgent Denver Nuggets sans Carmelo Anthony in the first round. In the Western Conference, there are no gimme series. Just look at the Spurs and Lakers losing the first game on their home floor in their respective series.
But this Thunder team is different. The mission is clear. They no longer look like up-and-comers. Now they are the team others hope to avoid in the playoffs.
"I won't say they are going to sweep the Nuggets but I think we all have the expectations of moving on to the second round," Young said. "Once you get to the second round, the match-up is most likely the (San Antonio) Spurs. That's not a bad match-up. I think we're all a little anxious to start declaring things like they are going to the Western Conference Finals."
If anyone not affiliated with the team has seen more games than me, it's probably Royce. So let's all agree something special is in the air and I don't mean pollen.
For the record, this column was typed while watching Game 1 Sunday night. When the Nuggets blazed out to a big start, my confidence did not waiver. More importantly, the team did exactly what we all expected them to do.
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