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Thunder still not best in West

John Rohde Published: January 17, 2012
From left, TNT crew of Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.
From left, TNT crew of Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.

On Monday night on TNT, the Thunder beat the Boston Celtics for the third straight year inside TD Garden. For more than two hours, the telecast crew of Kevin Harlan, Mike Fratello, Chris Webber and David Aldridge heaped praise upon the Thunder, which has the NBA’s best record at 12-2 after its 97-88 victory at Boston. But when TNT joined its studio crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Thunder quickly played second fiddle again.

Johnson asked the panel to pick a series winner between the Los Angeles Lakers and Thunder right now and all three without hesitation picked LA. The Lakers are too big and Kobe Bryant is simply too good for OKC to win.

LA then went out and nipped Dallas 73-70 on a 3-pointer from Derek Fisher with 3.1 seconds left. The Lakers scored seven total points in the third quarter, shot 38.2 percent from the field, shot 10 percent from 3-point range (1 for 10) and Bryant went 7 for 22 from the field and finished with 14 points.

Some excerpts from the TNT experts:

Webber on Thunder forward Serge Ibaka: “He is athletic, smart defensively. He’s a great shot blocker and a great inside presence.”

Fratello on Thunder head coach Scott Brooks: “He really knows his players and he knows which guys to let grow and develop and which ones he can get on a little bit harder.  He wants players to grow and experience this learning process and by the way, they’re winning a lot of games in this process.”

Webber on Thunder sixth man James Harden: “The best teams that I played against had role players that were superstars.  They took their role seriously and they knew the importance of their role to the team.  (Harden) has embraced his role (as sixth man) and has made sure that the bench is better for that.”

Smith on point guards Rajon Rondo of the Celtics and OKC’s Russell Westbrook: ”They are the only two teams that have guards, besides (Chicago’s) Derrick Rose, that consistently get into the paint.”

Fratello on Thunder forward Kevin Durant: “He is a very unselfish player.  He has the God-given ability to score the basketball whenever he wants to. He understands the team aspect of the game and is a willing passer.”

Barkley’s predictions on the best teams in the Western Conference: “The Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets are the two best teams I have seen in the West.”

O’Neal on the Thunder being 12-2: “They’ve had an easy schedule.”

As you can see from ESPNstats, the Thunder ranks No. 1 in the NBA in RPI and No. 8 in strength of schedule. O’Neal is partically right in that OKC often has played teams not at full strength such as San Antonio (no Manu Ginobili), New York (Carmelo Anthony), Memphis (Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur) and New Orleans (Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza), but other teams also have enjoyed the same benefit. In addition, the Thunder also swept its back-to-back-to-back, won five games in six days and is on a seven-game winning streak.

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