TNT game analyst Steve Kerr assessed the Thunder's fast start as it prepares to make three national television appearances in eight days. TNT will air Thunder games at 6 p.m. Thursday at Minnesota (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Marty Snider) and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, at Chesapeake Energy Arena against Dallas (Harlan, Kerr and Craig Sager). On Christmas Day, ABC will air an NBA Finals rematch at Miami at 4:30 p.m. (Mike Tirico, Hubie Brown and Lisa Salters).
What's your assessment of the Thunder?
They have been fantastic. I think they have responded better than anybody could have hoped for after the (James) Harden trade. It just feels like they have kind of picked up where they left off last year and continued their growth as a team. They are playing with a lot of confidence. They are playing well together. And Kevin Martin has been really, really good. It's been pretty much smooth sailing after the trade, which has kind of surprised me.
Did you think the team would miss Harden more than it has?
I do think they will miss Harden come playoff time because of his ability to break down the defense. I don't think Oklahoma City would have beaten San Antonio without him last year. Oklahoma City is playing extremely well with Martin in that role right now. He is a different player. He is a big scorer, but he does it differently. I'm really pleasantly surprised how good they've been considering Harden was such a big part of that team.
What do they need to work on?
I always worry about their reliance on beating you off the dribble. It was really interesting last year in the Spurs (playoff) series. The first two games they really couldn't get much done, than all of a sudden they averaged 25 assists a game the last four games. They really started to move the ball better and execute better in half-court without relying completely on that penetration and one-on-one game. They have maintained their defense well. They have two guys who can break down the defense at any point. All in all, this is a team that is growing and I think will be a factor for the next decade. It's just a matter of can they take that next step. We won't know until June.
How do you think the Thunder will match up against Miami?
I think what will be interesting to see if Scott Brooks plays a little differently and scales down and plays his smaller lineup more often than he did in the Finals last year. I just felt like (Nick) Collison would be more effective in that series than (Kendrick) Perkins. It's always easy when you're sitting in the comfort of the broadcaster's seat to say your peace and move on. Scott has to live with whatever decision he makes and he's got a great feel for his team. My feeling is that they would not have beaten San Antonio without Perkins and his defense on (Tim) Duncan, but that they would have been better served playing Collison more than Perkins against Miami.
Does it really matter who wins this early in the season?
It doesn't decide anything obviously. When you're a championship contender, there are always a few key games during the course of the regular season that you point to and you kind of want to set the tone. Those are the games where you might be facing a potential Finals foe. I think it's important for Oklahoma City to play well and maybe win the game to give Miami a little reminder about what what's waiting for them.