NBA Oklahoma City Thunder

5 Keys to Oklahoma City’s 2014 NBA Title Hopes

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5 Keys To Oklahoma City's NBA Title Hopes

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder will not be satisfied with another postseason run that doesn't give this talented team an NBA championship. Despite losing Russell Westbrook for extended periods of time this season, Oklahoma City is still the main threat to win the Western Conference and the best team that can dethrone the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

With Westbrook in and out of the lineup recovering from his knee injuries, the Thunder have not lost a step in earning the best record in the Western Conference. Superstar Kevin Durant has played at an MVP level for the Thunder, scoring 30 or more points in 30 of Oklahoma City's 51 games. Reggie Jackson has been effective filling in for Westbrook, and once the star point guard gets back, the Thunder will be even more potent than they are now.

The Thunder are currently first in the Western Conference with a three-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs, and in the Northwest division, the Thunder have a four-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Thunder are well on their way to their second-straight season as the No. 1 seed in the West.

The Thunder will not only be the team to beat in the Western Conference, but the Thunder also have the best chance to dethrone the Miami Heat as champions. Without Westbrook going down in last year's playoffs, the Thunder could well have been playing for their second-consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

What follows are the five main keys to Oklahoma City's 2014 title hopes. The following reasons include key players who need to step up and a very important factor in the postseason.

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5. Serge Ibaka Needs To Be A Consistent Third Scorer

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Power Forward Serge Ibaka has a good offensive game, yet on most nights he doesn't consistently contribute much on the offensive side of the ball.

The only true hindrance for a Thunder title is the lack of a consistent third scorer for the Thunder. Ibaka is good enough to produce 10 to 12 points a night, lessening the load on Durant and Westbrook to do it all on offense.

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4. The Bench Needs To Produce

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City is banking on a lot of young players to compensate for the departure of James Harden, who was traded to the Houston Rockets last year. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Nick Collison will have to contribute meaningful minutes and scoring once the postseason rolls around.

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3. The Thunder Must Get Home-Court Advantage

Home Court
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder have the best home-court record with a 22-3 record compared to a road record of 18-9. Oklahoma City's fan base is one of the most ravenous in the NBA, and their crowd greatly gives the Thunder a true advantage with one of the noisiest arenas in the NBA.

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2. Russell Westbrook Needs To Be 100 Percent

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Westbrook is the second-best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder, yet when it pertains to injuries, he is usually the first person out of the lineup. Westbrook has seen limited action this season after recovering from his postseason injury last year. When healthy, Westbrook is one of the elite point guards in the league who can put up points in the blink of an eye.

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1. Kevin Durant Must Carry The Thunder

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder start and stop with Durant. When Durant is hot, he can carry the Thunder by himself. When Durant gets cold, the Thunder offense becomes non-existent for long stretches of games. While Durant has been dominant in the month of January, Oklahoma City's best player will have to perform when it matters most, in May and June.