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NBA Atlanta Hawks

2011-12 NBA Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder finished with a 55-27 record, as they took home the Northwest Division crown. OKC was finally upended in the Western Conference Finals by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Regardless of the loss, the Thunder are a young and powerful team on the rise with NBA superstar Kevin Durant leading the way.

Last season, KD nearly took home the MVP as he averaged 28 points per game. This year, Durant won’t leave without the Most Valuable Player award in hand. His teammate and wingman is point guard Russell Westbrook. The two fought through some trials and tribulation last year, but they are both competitors and sometimes it gets the best of them. Westbrook is one of the most electric players in the league, with his rare explosive and athletic ability. If Durant isn’t in the MVP running for some odd season, Russell definitely will be.

Serge Ibaka a.k.a. E-Block-Agh is a 21-year-old power forward on the cusp of breaking out. Ibaka was outrageous last year in the paint, rejecting shots with great regularity. Last season he led the league in total blocks (198) as he averaged 2.4 rejections per game while averaging just 27 minutes played per game. If this kid gets a high dose of playing time, expect huge things. By the way, he also has a jump shot that is starting to find consistency. Watch out.

The talent on the Tunder seems endless, as the fourth star of this group is former Arizona State great and current shooting guard James Harden. Last season Harden was a huge contributor to Oklahoma City, especially down the stretch run and in the playoffs. He has a smooth all-around game and plays decent defense. The reason Harden didn’t start all the time was due to the defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha. The lanky guard can handle the league’s best, especially around the perimeter. Look for there to be a nice give and take between the two shooting guards on OKC in 2011.

Kendrick Perkins is the starting center after a mid-season trade with the Celtics last year. Eric Maynor was also a very serviceable back-up point guard to Russell Westbrook last season. If given heavy minutes, both players could contribute in major ways.

I have been on the Thunder bandwagon since day No. 1 and I don’t plan on getting off anytime soon. I am predicting the Thunder to win the NBA Championship this season as they slowly become an annual fixture in the NBA’s elite. Kevin Durant will win the MVP award and Scott Brooks will take home the Coach of the Year award as the Thunder will hoist up their first-ever NBA title in franchise history. This is going to be a scary bunch for a long time. Follow it right here at Rant Sports all season long.

Follow Tony Piraro on Twitter @TonyPiraro