No one was picking San Antonio to come out of the West a few weeks ago. In fact, a lot of pundits were even placing them 4th behind the Lakers, Thunder, and Clippers. Yet, the Lakers appear to be learning the hard lesson of developing chemistry with their flaccid 0-2 start.
It’s a lesson Miami learned two years ago; talent alone doesn’t always equal great teams.
The Lakers have a lot of big names and big numbers, but not a lot of cohesion in their offense. They continue to shoot below 25 percent from beyond the arc and give up a lot of easy layups. They still haven’t figured out how their offense will flow.
The real shock heard around the NBA was James Harden’s trade to the Houston Rockets last week. This trade makes the Oklahoma City Thunder an entirely different team that relies heavily on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the lion’s share of the scoring. Harden was a huge part in their 'big three' last year. His production was impressive and his clutch shooting down the stretch was critical to their success.
The chasm left by Harden’s absence was felt in the Thunder’s Thursday night 86-84 loss to the Spurs. Yes, it was a close game, but anyone that remembers the Western Conference Finals last year knows the Thunder dominated games 2-6 so convincingly that it looked like the Spurs really had simply gotten too old, too slow, and too un-athletic to compete at the top level of the NBA anymore. Yet, Thursday night it was Tim Duncan going for 20 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and a posterization of Serge Ibaka that will not soon be forgotten. It was the Thunder, not the Spurs, who was struggling for offensive answers.
When you take Harden out of the equation for the Thunder, they look confused where the third piece to their scoring puzzle is going to come from. Durant (23 points) and Westbrook (18 points) put up solid numbers, but the next highest starting scorer on the team was Thabo Sefolosha with eight points.
If the Thunder are relying on defensive specialist Sefolosha to handle the portion of the scoring Harden left behind, they are going to have a long season. Look for Oklahoma City to struggle the first half of the year as they figure this equation out. They’ll still be solid and finish in the top two or three of the West, but all these changes with the Lakers and Thunder leave the steady progress of the Spurs with a great opportunity in 2013.
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