Thunder fans, I know some of you are worried about your team.
I don't blame you.
The Thunder decided to sleepwalk through the final weeks of the regular season. After drubbing the Bulls on April Fools' Day, the boys in blue didn't beat another playoff-bound team the rest of the month.
Can they shake off the haziness for the playoffs?
That remains to be seen, but they've got one heck of a wake-up call waiting for them in the first round, which starts Saturday in late night.
The defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
Talk about an eye-opener to start the NBA Playoffs. This is the franchise that not only won it all a year ago but also knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs in the process.
It was a painful end to a glorious postseason.
You remember all the fun you had during that run, don't you, Thunder fans? It started before the playoffs even began when Denver coach George Karl popped off and called the Thunder and its coach, Mr. Mild Mannered himself, Scott Brooks, cocky. That was only the beginning of the fun.
There was Denver complaining about the disputed goaltending call in Game 1. Kevin Durant wearing his now-famous backpack to the postgame press conference. Russell Westbrook going 30 for 30.
And that was just the first round.
Then came the Memphis series. The Grizzlies' opening-game win on Thunder soil. The Thunder blowing a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead and losing in overtime in Game 3. The Thunder overcoming an 18-point deficit and winning in triple overtime in Game 4.
Oh, what fun.
Until the Western Conference Finals.
Everything fell apart for the Thunder, and it happened quickly. In Game 1, Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points, and it felt like he could've scored 88. The Mavs star hit pretty much everything he shot. Field goals and free throws combined, he was 36 of 39.
The Thunder had no answer.
It was a sign of things to come.
A woeful start in Game 3 doomed the Thunder at home. A 15-point lead with five minutes left was blown in Game 4. Another late lead couldn't be held again in Game 5.
Just like that, the season was over.
And so with the Thunder struggling anew to close out games and the Mavs still suiting up the Dirk Devil, there is fear and trepidation running through the ranks. Will the Thunder survive the Mavs? Should this series be on upset alert?
I suppose it's possible, Thunder fans, but believe me when I tell you, this is the perfect set-up for your team.
For starters, playing the Mavs provides serious motivation to the Thunder. These guys know what the Mavs are capable of, so there will be no easing into the playoffs. The Thunder has to start strong. Its defense must be stout. Its offense must be sharp
All of these issues that have come up in the last few weeks? They must be fixed, and the Thunder knows it.
If OKC opened with Denver or Utah, would it be as motivated to kick it into high gear right away?
There will be no doubt with Dallas, never mind the fact that these Mavs are not nearly as good as those Mavs were a year ago.
But wait, there's more benefit to opening with the Mavs.
Once the Thunder beats the Mavs — yep, Thunder fans, I'm going with the hometown team — it will jumpstart a playoff run. Just think of all the emotional rewards of winning this series. Beating the defending champs. Ousting the team that ended your season a year ago. Getting the best of a budding rivalry. Ensuring we see no more shots of Mark Cuban on TV.
This is exactly the series to get the Thunder Bandwagon rolling.
The Thunder has shown it can be the best team in the NBA, that it can win the whole shooting match. And this is just the series to build momentum that will carry them all the way to the title.
Listen, I know talk like this makes some of you nervous. But why? Would you rather be cheering for a team that has little chance of winning a title? Would you rather have a squad with no stars, no home-court advantage, no big-time aspirations?
Of course not.
Jump on this ride, Thunder fans. I'll even be the trail boss on the Thunder Bandwagon. We could make matching T-shirts. We could have a secret handshake. Anything is possible.
Who knows where this could take us? Miami? Chicago? San Antonio? Los Angeles?
Let's start with Dallas, and see where this trail leads.