Six months later, the Oklahoma City Thunder still might not have found a solution to the riddle that so effectively stumped it last season and stopped its run to the NBA championship.
The problem: LeBron James.
The objective: defending him.
“I think people are still trying to figure that one out,” confessed Kevin Durant.
The Thunder on Tuesday will get another shot at cracking the code that is James. The Christmas Day showcase will be the first time the Thunder has faced James since he bulldozed through OKC and powered his Miami Heat to a 4-1 victory in last year's NBA Finals.
Above all, Tuesday's regular-season rematch will reveal exactly how much better the Thunder has become at defending James.
“We're going to have different guys on him and we have to obviously do a very good job to contain him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “When he has the monster games, the triple-double-type games of a lot of assists and points, those are the games that they're tough to beat.”
Brooks then simplified the keys to success.
“You need everybody to be dialed in and locked in — and you need a lot of luck to make it work,” he said.
Oklahoma City rarely has had success against James. But few have.
James' physical attributes make him almost impossible to defend. He's built like a power forward, moves with the agility of a small forward, shoots like a shooting guard and handles and passes the ball like a point guard.
In last year's series, nothing worked against James. The Thunder tried Durant and watched James dominate with his size and speed advantages, resulting in costly foul trouble for Durant. OKC tried smaller players, like James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha, and James overpowered them in the post. And when the Thunder tried to trap James with double teams, he just picked apart OKC's defense by finding open teammates on the perimeter.