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Thunder might be NBA sweethearts now, but that could change quickly

BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Modified: April 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm •  Published: April 28, 2011

The adorable Oklahoma City Thunder could soon become a little less lovable.

With a Western Conference playoff series possibly waiting against the league's potential new sweetheart in Memphis, an NBA nation that quickly embraced the Thunder might find a new favorite.

On the flip side, if OKC faces uber-franchise San Antonio in the next round, the country's love affair with the Thunder no doubt would intensify.

Such is the fickle world of sport.

Two seasons ago, observers had little to say about the relocated Seattle SuperSonics because the team basically stunk, starting out 3-29 and finishing with a 23-59 record.

Last season, people gave the Thunder props for its 50-win season, acknowledging the team's youth, talent, enthusiasm and potential.

Now, some evidently view OKC as a cocky bunch that needs to wait its turn.

Power forward Nick Collison smiled at the wide-ranging perceptions that have surrounded his team the past 30 months.

"One thing I've noticed being in the league is there's always a story line," said Collison, who has been with the franchise since being drafted 12th overall in 2003. "There's always a story, but in our day-to-day lives, things don't really change. A lot of that is kind of peripheral, and we don't really feel like it's real."

Before the Thunder's opening-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets began April 17, Denver Post columnist Mark Kizla asked coach George Karl to describe the biggest differences between him and Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who was one of Karl's assistants for 2½ seasons in Denver.

"He's pretty cocky," Karl said of Brooks. "He's confident. And his team is confident. At times, when you get by him, you think they might be too cocky."

During a shoot-around session at Oklahoma City Arena before Game 2, Karl said he definitely called the Thunder a "cocky" group, but didn't recall using that word to describe Brooks.

"And I never said being cocky was a bad thing," Karl said.

Labeling the soft-spoken Brooks as cocky came off as ludicrous, but categorizing certain Thunder players as such was not nearly as farfetched.

Passionate point guard Russell Westbrook has been slapped with nine technical fouls so far this season, has not shied away from staring down an opposing crowd or even engaging in occasional verbal warfare with teammates.

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