NBA Oklahoma City Thunder

Five Reasons Why Oklahoma City is Still the Team to Beat Out West

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Five Reasons Why Oklahoma City is Still the Team to Beat Out West

Oklahoma City Thunder
Soobum Im-US Presswire

In recent years, the Oklahoma City Thunder has consistently improved until they became one of the elites last year. They improved from making the playoffs a few years ago, to winning the first few rounds, to losing to the eventual champions in the Western Conference Finals in the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and reaching the Finals last year. The way they established their team has made them the mold that other young teams want to emulate.

But right now though, all eyes seem to be on the new look Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were able to complete a coup after they formed their own super team when they acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the offseason. They have made quite a splash and they are the proverbial talk of the town.

After the Lakers formed their super team this offseason, the Lakers became the sexy pick to win in the West. However, the Thunder is still the logical pick to defend its Western Crown. Although they may not have made a huge splash in free agency and in trades, they have improved from within and I firmly believe that they will once again hoist the Western Conference trophy in May. The Thunder are a young and talented team and their Finals loss last year should only make them that much hungrier to give it their all in the new season. With that said here are five reasons why the Thunder is still the team to beat this year.

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5. They are the defending Western Conference Champions.

Oklahoma City Thunder Western Champions
Kevin Jairaj-US Presswire

While this may not mean much, as evidenced in the Mavericks first round loss last year, the Thunder are the defending Western Champions until they are dethroned. The difference between the Mavericks and the Thunder is that the Thunder actually got better. All their key pieces return and they have added a promising rookie that could be a contributor as soon as this year.

After the fantastic showing in the recently concluded Olympics, the trio of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant should only get better in 2013. Durant trained with Lebron James in the summer and he should be much better this year.

Harden as well, will be entering the new season motivated to prove that he is a max contract player. Add all this up and you have a stronger and hungrier Thunder team this year.

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4. Kevin Durant is going to be special this year.

Kevin Durant going strong
Matthew Emmons-US Presswire

As mentioned in the previous slide, Durant just got back from an impressive showing in the Olympics. He also trained with James this summer. All the signs are pointing to another excellent year for Durant.

He has the opportunity to continue his amazing scoring run this year. For three straight years, he has won the scoring title, after an impressive summer, he should only build on this amazing run and be that much better in 2013.

Durant could surprise us and show an even better defensive effort this year. He could show a stronger killer instinct on the defensive end and be that much better. What is scary about this kid is that he is still just 24 years old and he has yet to tap on his true potential.

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3. The Chemistry is already there.

Oklahoma City Chemistry
Brendan Maloney-US Presswire

Say what you will about the super teams, but there is something special about a young team like the Thunder coming together in a magical year where they win a championship in the end.

They have a plethora of young players and they have truly grown as a team. They are indeed a family and this kind of chemistry is reminiscent of the 80's showtime Lakers or the legendary Boston Celtics.

The Thunder have a special bond as a team and it shows on the court. They have grown up together and they have experienced all the highs and lows of a young team trying to prove that they belong. As long as they are intact, they should be the front runner in the Western conference year in and year out.

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2. The Lakers still have some question marks.

New Look Lakers
Jayne Jamin-Oncea-US Presswire

The Lakers have formed the quintessential super team, as they have picked up two players who have multiple All-NBA teams to their credit. There is only one ball though, and you have four former All Stars longing it.

What the Lakers don’t have is chemistry, and that is what the Thunder has in spades. The Thunder has built an atmosphere of familiarity and you can see their chemistry is truly special. Meanwhile, the Lakers have brought in parts to make a team great, however we still don't know if those parts will work out in the end. While the Lakers will indeed be a fun and exciting team, I’m picking the team with the best chemistry going forward.

You also have a ball dominant player in Kobe Bryant who needs the ball to be effective. We still don't know what version of Kobe will show up once the season starts. Will he show up as the inefficient chucker who broke up the Shaquille O'neal and Kobe era? Or will he come into the season ready to give the reins to point guard extraordinaire Steve Nash?

One last thing to note is that Mike Brown is still the coach of the Lakers. He is a good coach, but can he be a championship level coach for this team?

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1. Kevin Durant is a generational talent like Lebron.

Durant and Lebron Legends of the Future
Jerome Mirron-US Presswire

Durant is a one of a kind player. He is a freak athlete with an offensive arsenal like no other. He is also a strong rebounder and he is well on his way on becoming a good defender.

I truly believe that he will eventually win a championship. As long as Durant, Westbrook and Harden are the core in Oklahoma, then they will always be the top challengers in the West.

In the end, the Thunder is still the team to beat until proven otherwise. They may still be young and inexperienced. But their Finals loss last year will motivate them to be even stronger in 2013.