The Oklahoma City Thunder is a near unanimous selection to return to the NBA Finals in a survey of nine NBA TV analysts. Only host Matt Winer is picking San Antonio to overtake the Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Miami is a unanimous selection to repeat as NBA champions.
In individual awards, LeBron James was a unanimous pick as MVP, and Damian Lillard was a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. George Karl of Denver and Mike Woodson of New York each got three votes for Coach of the Year.
In Defensive Player of the Year voting, Memphis center Marc Gasol had three votes, followed by Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, Indiana guard Paul George and James with two votes each. Houston guard James Harden and New Orleans guard Greivis Vasquez each had three votes each for Most Improved Player.
In a conference call Monday, NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott and TNT analysts Kenny Smith and Steve Kerr and discussed the Thunder's biggest obstacle to returning to the NBA Finals?
Smith: Are they going to tested by the subtraction of James Harden? We see how much he is a playmaker for Houston and to me in rounds one, two and three last year, especially two and three, he was the guy that they gave the basketball to and said create a play, not shoot, and settle us down. Kevin Martin has not proven to be that. And this is going to be Westbrook's first full-time duty at it. That is going to be question because when you move on in the playoffs, that's going to have to happen. They are overmatching their opponents now in the Houston Rockets, but you won't be just overmatching people with talent in rounds two and three. So we will see if that trade works.
Scott: (Russell) Westbrook, this is your opportunity if you want to take that next step and be considered a top-notch point guard in our league. When they mention Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or when Derrick Rose is healthy, you want your name mentioned there, this is your opportunity along with Kevin Durant, too. We know LeBron (James) is probably going to get MVP this year of the league, but Durant has a triple-double and playing that style of being all-around and not just a scorer. Both of those guys get their chance to prove how good they really are.
Kerr: I would say the biggest obstacle is going to be San Antonio in the West, assuming the Spurs get healthy and clicking. I would agree with what Kenny said: There is no way that Oklahoma City gets past the Spurs last year without Harden. And so that trade will be interesting. Kevin Martin has had a really good year, but he is a different kind of player.