With the biggest injury concern among the contenders in a loaded Western Conference, some analysts have soured on the Thunder's chances in recent weeks.
But there are at least two respected NBA minds who remain believers in OKC.
Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller, speaking recently on NBA TV's Real Training Camp, both, in some form, said they believed the Thunder would win the West.
“I think Oklahoma City, as good as they were last year, they're going to get (Russell) Westbrook back healthy and, assuming that they do, I think they end up with the best record,” Kerr said.
Beyond the Thunder, Kerr had the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs, respectively, in his projected regular season standings.
Miller disagreed slightly with Kerr's placement of the Thunder, saying that he moved the Thunder from his top spot to No. 3, behind the Spurs and Clippers, once he heard Westbrook would miss 4-6 weeks. But fully healthy, he still predicts OKC to be Finals bound.
“I don't think they're going to win as many games with him out, so I don't think home court advantage,” Miller said. “(But) at the end of the year, I think OKC will be the best team and they will represent the West … I really don't think home court advantage means anything right now for OKC.”
Fellow TNT analyst Chris Webber, however, disagrees with both. Heading into the season, he's down on the Thunder.
“I never viewed them as the favorite last year, even with (Westbrook),” Webber said on a recent conference call. “I think this is a different league and each team is going to have to re-evaluate, not live off the past. This is a much different league than it was last year, so I think they need to worry about the other great teams in the Western Conference. It's a year later but (James) Harden was in the discussion a year ago and they are not better without Harden. Losing Kevin Martin as well, they have to find a new identity.”
DURANT CONFIDENT STEVEN ADAMS CAN HELP THIS YEAR
In the Thunder's first two preseason games, Steven Adams made six shots.
Of those, Kevin Durant assisted on half of them, showing an immediate comfort with the rookie center, particularly on the pick and roll.
“It's not surprising,” Durant said when asked about Adams' ability to smoothly catch and finish. “I've seen him in preseason, playing pickup and the first few days of camp. He's really big. His hands are really big. Even bad passes, he makes the guys look good. He's doing a great job of catching and finishing. Once he learns the game a little bit more, the small little tricks of the game, I think he's going to be a great player.”
With that said, does Durant think the 20-year-old Adams could contribute in a rotation spot right away?
“No doubt,” he said.
KENDRICK PERKINS OUT FOR DENVER GAME
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is still feeling the lingering effects of a dislocated left ring finger that he suffered on the overseas trip. And because of that, he will sit out Tuesday's home exhibition opener against Denver.
That means, in all likelihood, extended playing time for Hasheem Thabeet and rookie Steven Adams, who will be making his home debut.
It's not clear who will get the start — Thabeet worked with the starters in Sunday's scrimmage, while Adams started over an injured Perkins in the last preseason game — but expect both to get plenty of opportunity.
*Reggie Jackson, from a point guard's perspective, on the benefits of having Kevin Durant: “It also helps when you have one mismatch, it doesn't matter who in the gym is guarding him. If you call a play for him, you're going to get a good shot.”