NEW YORK — On some nights, it’s enough for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to walk onto an NBA floor. But there are others when the Thunder and their two elite players get pushed to the limit by a team with a losing record like the Knicks, even on a night when Carmelo Anthony is sitting out and the game comes down to a shootout between Durant and one of Anthony’s sidekicks, Arron Afflalo.
That’s what we had when the Thunder left Madison Square Garden with an overtime win and needed all of Durant’s 44 points and Westbrook’s 30 points to seal the deal. Defensively, they don’t look like a team that will give the NBA’s two juggernauts, Golden State and San Antonio, all they can handle when the calendar turns to May and June.
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Yeah, Billy Donovan sure picked a great time to leave Florida and come to the NBA.
“Perfect timing, right?" the guy known as “Billy the Kid” around here said before heading off for Minneapolis for Wednesday’s game against the Timberwolves. “I mean, we’re in the Western Conference, with those two teams having the seasons they’re having, the way they’re playing now?"
It doesn’t mean that the Thunder can’t match up with the Warriors and Spurs when everything is on the line. For one thing, he gets to put Durant and Westbrook on the court every night.
“They both come to work hard, every single day," he said. “And they both try to get better."
But there are major questions about Thunder’s chemistry, Durant’s impending free agency and the supporting cast after Serge Ibaka. Then there’s a critical area where the Warriors and Spurs have it all over Durant and Westbrook. The last two NBA champs actually know what it’s like to hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy, meaning they’ve figured out how to win in June and can summon those lessons when times get tough in the playoffs. Talented as they are, the Thunder’s superstars are still trying to figure it out, and so is Donovan, who won back-to-back titles at Florida, but is in his first NBA rodeo.
Since the Thunder went to their only Finals, in 2012 when James Harden was still on the team and they looked like they’d become the NBA’s next dynasty, the Spurs have been to two Finals, winning one, and have added LaMarcus Aldridge to their championship core. The Warriors have won a title and are steaming, virtually unopposed, toward a new regular-season wins record. In that time the Thunder have reached the Western Conference finals only once, and last year was a total washout ending in a lottery berth when Durant was limited to 27 games by a broken foot.
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So here are the Warriors, with Stephen Curry on his way to running away with his second straight MVP award and Draymond Green taking his game for the first time to an All-NBA level. Then there are the Spurs, with Kawhi Leonard and their old Big Three and Aldridge, eve[......]