Technically, yes, they were the defending champions.
But we all could see that these weren't the same Dallas Mavericks.
That doesn't make the Thunder's first-round sweep any less impressive. It just calls into question the four straight victories as any sort of reliable indicator of exactly where this Thunder team is.
After losing Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Mavs lost their championship mettle. Dallas was forced to play this season despite this season never being about this season. Management put the Mavs in the position of playing out the string while counting down the days to the start of the Dwight Howard/Deron Williams sweepstakes. But to its credit, the Thunder wasted no time in putting the Mavs out of their misery.
“We would have loved to have kept the troops together,” said Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki after being eliminated. “As players, we would have loved to have gotten the guys back and given it a true shot to defend.”
Notice the words “true shot.” Keep them in mind throughout this week while celebrating the sweep and awaiting the winner between the Lakers and Nuggets — because the old saying about beating the champ to be the champ really doesn't apply in this instance.
Again, that's not taking anything away from the Thunder and what the team accomplished. There were moments throughout the series that unequivocally showed OKC has improved since last season. How much, however, might not fully be known until the Thunder faces a true contender like the Lakers or Spurs.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, though, said he doesn't judge his team that way.
“I just compare our team versus our team this year,” Brooks said. “I think we've gotten better as the year has (gone) on.”
Chances are high the Thunder will do the same as the playoffs roll along. Just don't expect OKC to continue to roll through the rest of the postseason. At some point, some sort of adversity will set in. That's when we'll get the true indication of how much this Thunder team has grown.
Still, when analyzing the sweep, there is a litany of things to like that the Thunder did right.
The Thunder never saw its best players all put it together and shine in the same game, yet OKC got key contributions from various sources to still be successful.
The Thunder did a good job taking care of the ball.