Quantcast 2011 NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Round One - Denver vs Oklahoma City

 

2011 NBA Playoff Preview – Western Conference First Round

(5) Denver Nuggets vs. (4) Oklahoma City Thunder

 

If you want a darkhorse for the Western Conference championship in 2011, it’s going to come from this series. While the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs represent the heavyweights in this part of the professional basketball landscape, an outlier lurks in this immensely attractive showdown.

In what might be the most entertaining first round contest of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to move past the first round for the first time since the franchise left Seattle. In the way of the Thunder are the dangerous Denver Nuggets, newly freed from the shackles of Carmelo Anthony and his black-hole ballhogging. Both squads are filled with talent and youth. Which one of these clubs will take the next step and advance to the conference semifinals?

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Oklahoma City is certainly the sexier pick. Back-to-back NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook lead a squad that has made dramatic improvements over the past two seasons. In their first season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder were just 23-59. A new coach in Scott Brooks brought about continued development in the team’s young players. That crucial component of the Brooks modus operandi saw Oklahoma City win 27 more games last season and challenge the eventual NBA champion Lakers in a tough six-game first round series. With that jump, expectations are now sky high in Oklahoma this postseason.

It’s instructive to point out that the Thunder haven’t sat on their hands and waited for success to come to them. A midseason trade sending Jeff Green to Boston in return for defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins signaled to the league that the Thunder were serious about a deep playoff run. The Thunder will look to control the interior with Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and a solid rebounder in Durant. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the Thunder are amped and ready to move on in the postseason, sobered by the memory of Nick Collison getting beaten for an offensive rebound by Pau Gasol at the end of Game 6 against the Lakers one year ago. Oklahoma City knew it needed to get tougher on the boards and near the rim, and the Thunder have done that. They hope that the moves made by General Manager Sam Presti will bear fruit in May and June… and, of course, this late-April steppingstone to bigger conquests.

 

 

For the Nuggets it has been a tumultuous season. Incessant talk regarding Carmelo Anthony and his status in Denver overshadowed consistently solid play from the 2009 West runner-up. Once Anthony was shipped to New York in return for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, and a multitude of picks, the Nuggets began playing their best basketball of the season. With a newfound lineup free from controversy, head coach George Karl has done a fantastic job getting the most out of his players. Injuries have been a concern for Denver throughout the season. Thankfully for Denver, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, and Nene Hilario will be back at full strength in time for Game 1 in Oklahoma City.

Expect this series to be an up-and-down kind of affair. Both teams will try to run and the ability to get back in transition will be a key for both squads. Denver has a roster with limited postseason experience: Afflalo, Nene, and Kenyon Martin have played in multiple playoff series. It may be just the Thunder’s second playoff appearance, but the signing of Perkins, who won a title with Boston in 2008, may be the deciding factor in this series, enabling Oklahoma City to move on in the West bracket. The Thunder have the better team. Denver has nothing to lose. Hoopheads can’t wait for this series to tip off.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer


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