There is a common belief that the Thunder is following the trek of the Portland TrailBlazers, that Oklahoma City is two years behind the Blazers. And I basically agree.
Portland this season was one of the NBA breakout teams, a squad that finished No. 4 in the Western Conference. I think OKC would jump all over that status for the year 2010-11. But as exciting as that sounds for the Thunder, that doesn’t mean the thrills keep coming.
Portland lost at home 108-81 to Houston in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night, and analyst Jeff Van Gundy apparently predicted just such hardships for Portland.
Van Gundy predicted Houston in five games, and yes, Van Gundy used to coach the Rockets. He also was fired by the Rockets, so I don’t know how much bias to read into his prediction. A Houston blogger wrote that he heard Van Gundy’s reasoning on radio, which boils down to this: 1. Portland won’t front Yao Ming, which will lead to a big series for the Rocket big man; 2. Portland is inexperienced; 3. Houston has TWO top notch defenders to take turns on Brandon Roy.
Makes sense to me, and Yao going 9-for-9 in the opening game certainly makes Van Gundy seem like a genius. But during the NBA games yesterday, when Van Gundy was asked about his foresight, he didn’t go into such strategic details. He just talked about Portland’s inexperience. In fact, he seemed to write it off as certainty that the Blazers are just too young and green to make a playoff push.
Which gets us back to Oklahoma City. Whenever the Thunder makes the playoffs — and most people assume that’s a when, not an if — don’t expect immediate good results, no matter where the Boomers place in the West. Even if Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are four-year pros by then, they’ll still be playoff yearlings.
The NBA playoffs are a whole different animal from the regular season. Few teams are playoff Cinderellas, and those that are usually led by grizzled veterans — the 1994 Knicks, with Patrick Ewing; the 1995 Rockets, with Hakeem Olajuwon; even the ’69 Celtics, who placed fourth in the seven-team East but had Bill Russell in his final season.
The lessons are clear. Experience carries the day in the NBA playoffs. It’s early in the Portland-Houston series, but it seems over already. Jeff Van Gundy certainly saw it coming. We should see it coming when the Thunder makes the playoffs, too.