I had an opportunity to ask ESPN NBA analysts Avery Johnson and Jalen Rose a couple of questions about the Thunder on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. They are both picking San Antonio Spurs over the Thunder in the Western Conference playoffs and Kevin Durant as their MVP. Johnson even ranks the Los Angeles Clippers above the Thunder.
Q: Is Kevin Durant your pick to win his first MVP title?
Johnson: Kevin Durant was my MVP probably a month ago. I know LeBron James had some games, especially the 62-point game and drew a lot of attention, and even his game in Oklahoma, where he had an outstanding performance and led Miami to a win. Kevin Durant has been the MVP, whether he wins it by some people's eyes in Oklahoma by a landslide or other people around the country by a nose, he has my vote. I think he has been everything that an MVP should be. He has been consistent. He has been clutch. He’s been fearless, tough-minded. And I was fortunate to coach an MVP in Dirk Nowitzki in 2007, so I kind of know what it should like, and that’s no knock on LeBron. Kevin Durant is my MVP this year.
Rose: I agree with Avery on KD being MVP. Having a terrific season. Flirting with being a 50-40-90 guy. Basically often he’s a clutch performer. He’s been out there consistently, regardless of injuries to Westbrook, to Sefolosha, to Perkins. He’s helped bring along and nurture young players like Jackson and Perry Jones and Lamb, which is tough to do, and incorporate Deron Butler and Derrick Fisher. I think he is and will be the league MVP.
Q: The Thunder has weathered a lot of injuries. How do you rate them with the playoffs on the horizon?
Johnson: Oklahoma City, considering all the injuries and especially to Westbrook, they have done a nice job of weathering the storm and staying at the top of the Western Conference. I am still a little bit concerned about their bench and their depth. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Derrick Fisher and some of their young players like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. This is something that we have talked about a lot on the air. Their young players are going to really come up big for them, especially in the playoffs and they are basically unproven. Obviously, Westbrook and Durant are a great combination. I think they still Kendrick Perkins to really be healthy and anchor their defense, but I really believe the Spurs are the best team in the Western Conference. I don’t see a team in the Western Conference right now that can beat the Spurs four times in a 10-day period. I like Oklahoma City, but I still have the Spurs as the team that is going to win the Western Conference and return to the championship.
Rose: I give San Antonio a slight edge as it relates to best team in the West, but we all know it’s really going to come down to matchups. You have a couple 3-0s and a couple of 0-3s that they are versus other playoff teams in the West. But I really like Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook is the wild card. He’s injured and people forget that he’s actually one of the top 10 players overall in the league. So if he’s healthy going into the playoffs, you have to give OKC as much of a chance as anybody else because they also play a playoff style. So for the Clippers, Portland and Houston, I think they play a regular-season style and then have to adjust come playoff time, while Oklahoma City plays the exact same style all the time. That’s why I think they’re going to be a factor.
Avery: I have a little bit more confidence in the Los Angeles Clippers than Jalen does primarily because of a couple of factors. One, Doc Rivers. What more can you say, outstanding coach. Two, Chris Paul. Third, I think Blake Griffin has a game that’s taylor-made, not just for the regular season, but for the playoffs because he is more of a basketball player now, he’s not just a slam-dunk artist. He is a much better passer. He’s averaging around 4 assists this year. He has a nice 18-foot jump shot. He can pick and pop, and not just pick and roll. He has a little Tim Duncan bank shot. … He’s developed more of a playoff-type game. Because of that, I give the Clippers a nod ahead of Oklahoma City and I think they have quality, experienced depth with the addition of (Danny) Granger, Glen Davis. You will have (Jamal) Crawford coming off the bench once (J.J.) Redick gets healthy. (Darren) Collison has done a really nice job and he can back up Chris Paul or give Doc Rivers the flexibility to play with Chris Paul. I think they are significantly improved team from the once that got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs last year.