Thursday Bolts – 12.22.11

Zach Lowe of SI.com has OKC has a favorite: “The Thunder are healthy, young and deep, and they morphed from a mediocre defensive team into a top-five-level club on that end once they flipped Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins last season, and Perkins finally looks to have recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. They were a top-five offensive team all season despite all the hand-wringing over Russell Westbrook’s shot selection, and they should be again this season, assuming everyone develops as expected. Last season’s crunch-time struggles against the Grizzlies and Mavericks should push the coaching staff to add more screening and off-ball action into the Thunder’s offense. With apologies to Dallas, this is the team to beat in the Western Conference. Miami and Oklahoma City were two of just three teams to finish among the league’s top 10 in both points scored and allowed per possession last season. Any Finals matchup other than Heat-Thunder will be a minor surprise.”

A quick look at the Thunder on ESPN.com’s NBA 411.

Northwest Division preview from Oregon Live: “The Thunder have an eye on the Finals this year, as well they should. They are bringing back their core players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, James Harden) virtually untouched. Perkins has lost weight, Harden and Ibaka figure to continue their improvement and Westbrook and Durant are already well established stars. Team stability is rare in the West this year, and the shortened schedule should be a bonus for Oklahoma City. They’re a good bet to return to the West finals—and probably can go beyond that.”

Tim Legler breaks down his top five point guards.

Rob Mahoney of the NYT on improving defenses: “That’s before even broaching the subject of the Thunder’s perimeter, where Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, and Kevin Durant consistently do fine defensive work. Durant is the weakest defender of the three, but his length and effort alone can give opponents fits. Sefalosha is a bit more adept at using his size and reach to bother ball-handlers, but Westbrook – for better and worse – is the most overtly oppressive defender the Thunder has. His tenacity too often translates to needless fouls or failed gambles, but at his best Westbrook has the ability to completely stall an opponent’s offense at its point of initiation.”

KD will be answering questions on Facebook.

Scott Brooks on title talk: “It’s not something that we talk about. I think that true champions don’t talk about it. They just go about their work, about their business that this is another day that we have to work together,” said Brooks, heading into his third full season as head coach. Teams that talk about it and don’t accomplish it are the teams that you don’t respect. We’re not like that. We don’t talk about it. We just do our job and the next day do our job again. If you have a bunch of days like that, you’re going to have some success.”

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