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Thunder Links – January 2, 2011 – Power Ranking Edition

Mark Stein has OKC #3. Durant nearly became the first player since Air Jordan in 1986-87 to start a season with five straight 30-point games. And when KD scored only 12 in game No. 5, neither that nor or any Westbrookgate spillover stopped OKC from reaching 5-0.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com has OKC #2. The Thunder offense ranks fourth overall and Kevin Durant is the league’s third-leading scorer, but as a group, the OKC starters are scoring less than 90 points per 100 possessions. Though James Harden is shooting just 42 percent, the team has been much better offensively when he’s been on the floor.

NBC has OKC #2. It’s never really too early to start a “James Harden for Sixth Man of the Year” campaign. Like the Heat, they needed a ridiculous game winner — theirs from Kevin Durant — to stay undefeated this week.

Sam Amico of FoxSports has OKC #2. Lots of youth, lots of balance, lots of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Another year together could result in their best finish yet.

OKC wont’ let their past or distance trip them up. It could be the mantra of the Thunder in this first season after shedding the Cinderella role and stepping into the white-hot spotlight of a true contender. Gone are the glass slippers after last spring’s run to the Western Conference finals and in their place are the heavy work boots of high expectation. What happened seven months ago was a wonderful, uplifting experience for a young bunch that is still learning to fit all of the pieces together, a necessary step along the path of growth and maturity. But now that should merely be pressed into a memory book like a lock child’s haird. OKC can afford only to look ahead. (cont…)

KD is a MVP for all. Durant’s every word and action echoed the theme he spoke over and over all summer: he loves to play. He makes millions. He’s a two-time scoring champion. His team, built around him, fell short of the NBA Finals by two games, and many favor it to get there this year. He’s a 23-year-old who could have the sport and everybody connected to it wrapped around his little finger. And he chose to use his powers for good, instead of evil. Everybody who envies the pros say that he’d play that game for free, instead of fighting over millions. For one summer, Durant did play for free, and got his rich pals to come do it, too. (cont…)

James Harden is a longshot to make the All-Star game. Harden will have the benefit of playing on a high-profile winning squad that has a perfectly carved-out role for him. Harden’s true value is that he can create shots for himself and others. But flashy numbers often count for more when trying to make the midseason classic. He needs to bump up his career 42 percent field goal shooting if he’s to have a chance. Who he’d replace: Deron Williams (now in the Eastern Conference) (cont…)

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