Lightning usually occurs before thunder is experienced. In Oklahoma City, the NBA’s Thunder created those phenomena simultaneously.
It seems that way, at least, on several levels. Not long after the team was first viewed in a flash on the horizon, the Thunder suddenly made noise by reaching the 2012 NBA Finals. Kevin Durant and LeBron James, perhaps the two most brilliant players in the game, are pitted against each other in a raucous game of thrones. After enough glimpses of dazzle, the general public, in a flash, now echoes the names James Harden and Serge Ibaka with household-word frequency.
And then there’s the Thunder’s actual game — personified by Russell Westbrook, basketball’s version of Usain Bolt — which is so speedy that it sometimes causes slow-motion replay software to crash.
What probably won’t be preposterously quick is the Thunder’s reign in the West. That figures to be a rather long, drawn-out process that lasts for years to come.
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These Finals will mostly be about LeBron, at least from the short-term perspective. He’s “The Decision” maker. He’s the guy who doesn’t come through in the clutch, except of course for Games 6 and 7 of the recent Eastern Conference finals. He’s the greatest player on Earth with no rings, having been skunked in previous Finals tries with Cleveland in 2007 (a 4-0 sweep by the Spurs) and last year with Miami against Dallas.
But most hoop anthropologists are fascinated more with the Thunder. Culturally, the populace is usually taken with the young and the talented. Not that LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are ready for white shoes, leisure suits and early bird dinners. It’s just that the Thunder is such a rare assemblage of burgeoning talent that it’s impossible not to think to yourself, “Are you kidding me?” when gazing upon their future.
Only two regulars — Nick Collison (31) and Derek Fisher (37) are in their 30s. The starters and remaining core players are still coming into their own. Durant, the three-time scoring champion is just 23. So is Westbrook. Ibaka and Harden are 22. Backup point guard Eric Maynor (out because of an injury) is 24. That makes defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha (28) and forward Kendrick Perkins (27) the veterans of the twentysomethings.
Westbrook is a spectacular point guard who is often unstoppable in transition, either for layups or short pull-up jumpers. And eventually he will mature so that his decision-making increases in quality and his emotional outbursts decrease in frequency.
Harden and Ibaka are the wild cards, only in terms of their futures. Both are eligible for contract extensions this summer. But if both get one, the Thunder will have some serious luxury tax issues to consider, since both Durant and Westbrook are locked up to long-term deals. If the Thunder can keep the high-scoring Harden and shot-blocking wizard Ibaka, it will endure in the West much like the Lakers and Spurs have for several years now.
PBT: The Spurs saw the NBA title slip through their fingers Tuesday night. Do they have it in them to rebound from their meltdown in time for Game 7?
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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Heat forward Chris Bosh talks about what could be a very physical Game 6 stating, "Hit them in the mouth, throat and their eyes." Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says the opposing Spurs "attack you ... but we do the same thing."
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