The Oklahoma City Thunder have been championship contenders for a while now. They made the 2012 NBA Finals and have played in three of the last four Western Conference Finals series – winning one and losing to the eventual NBA Champions in the others (Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2014).
After watching the Spurs hold up another Larry O’Brien trophy, the Thunder went about the off-season trying to find that piece or pieces that will get them back to the NBA Finals and potentially one step even further. They made a push for Pau Gasol but fell short, and they secured the floor spacing, sharp shooting Anthony Morrow.
With the development of their young stars (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams etc) and further improvement from reigning MVP Kevin Durant, defensive anchor Serge Ibaka and a full injury free season from All Star point guard Russell Westbrook – the Thunder might be as well placed as they have ever been to take the title.
So who poses a threat to the Thunder’s title hopes? This installment of the “Thunder Threat” series looks at the Eastern Conference favorites (according to ESPN) the Cleveland Cavaliers. For other installments, hit up the home page.
No team had a better off season than the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James came back “home” to try and win a ring for his hometown team, and as a free agent no less. The Cavs lost nothing in return and were able to pair the “King” with Kyrie Irving – the franchise’s All Star MVP point guard. James’ all star power, enabled the Cavs to also secure themselves some pretty handy role players to fill out the roster with some bench depth and scoring.
Mike Miller has come across from the Memphis Grizzlies after winning a title with James and the Miami Heat in 2013. James Jones has also taken his outside shooting to Cleveland where he will try and prolong his value by hitting open shots that are created by James and Irving.
Most recently though, the Cleveland Cavaliers have secured superstar Kevin Love in exchange for their recent number 1 draftee Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. The signing of Love has given the Cavs arguably a bigger and better “Big Three” than he had in Miami. When you couple this superstar core with the talent already on the roster (Matthew Dellavedova, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson) you can see why this team could stand between the Thunder and the NBA Championship.
The big three of the Cavs matches up perfectly with the Thunder star trio. Kevin Love vs Serge Ibaka, LeBron James vs Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving vs Russell Westbrook. Even the role players start to look similar with Varejao vs Perkins, Morrow vs Miller and Waiters vs Reggie Jackson.
However, for all their similarities, there are a couple of key differences. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a distinct advantage in that the core unit has played together for a number of seasons. They have developed and grown together and are very comfortable in their roles. The Cavs on the other hand seem destined to fail in their first season. History suggests, that superteams struggle in their inaugural year together (Miami lost to Dallas the first year, the Lakers didn’t really get off the ground, the Brooklyn Nets failed miserably).
The Thunder do play in a tougher conference, while the Cavs should be able to stroll past most of the East. So, it might be easier for the Cavs to make it to the playoffs – but that is when the real stuff starts. The Thunder will want to ensure they finish top 2 out West and even then, getting back to the Western Conference Finals is going to take some doing. Cleveland should really only face competition from Charlotte, Chicago and possibly the Raptors.
If these sides both make it to the NBA Finals, a seven game battle will likely ensue. It’s at that point, the chemistry and balance should hold them in good stead.
Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder