For the significance of Sunday night’s showdown against league darling LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, Thunder fans must flash back to last season. Oklahoma City went into Cleveland a day before Thanksgiving and left town on the wrong end of a 35-point whipping that portrayed the broad gap between the Thunder and one of the NBA’s top teams. But Sunday’s result, a more competitive game than the final 102-89 score indicated, proved the Thunder’s hot start is no fluke. Had it not been for a dismal shooting display in the decisive fourth quarter, the Thunder could have knocked off a giant and notched its first three-game winning streak of the season. Instead, Oklahoma City fell to 12-10. Still, a telling trend has emerged. Against the league’s six divisional champions from last season — Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, Denver, San Antonio and the Lakers — the Thunder is 2-5 with the first meeting against the Nuggets coming tonight. The scoring differential has been minus-4.7 points. Oklahoma City went 2-15 against those teams last season, with a scoring differential of 10.6 points. "They’re a totally different ballclub,” said Cavs guard Mo Williams. "Those young guys are growing up...It’s no secret why they’re winning games right now.” When ESPN.com published its playoff odds last week, the Thunder was projected to win 48 games and land the fifth seed in the playoffs. The projection also gave Oklahoma City a 23.3 percent chance of winning the Northwest division. That forecast, however lofty, doesn’t seem so farfetched now that the Thunder is challenging the league’s best. If the Thunder turns a few of these close-call losses into big-time wins, it could mean a playoff appearance this season. While a postseason party still hasn’t quite shifted from laughable to likely, the growing body of evidence proves the Thunder is close to something special. "They’ve improved a whole heck of a lot,” said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "Sam Presti has done a great job putting this team together. It’s quiet. Nobody really says anything about it. And Scott Brooks has done a terrific job coaching this team.” Brown talked up the respect he has for what the Thunder has accomplished thus far. He talked about the Thunder’s young talent, their length, athleticism, scoring ability and toughness. His sentiments have quickly spread throughout the league. The word is out. The Thunder is no longer the sad sack squad that limped to a 3-29 start last season before finishing with 23 wins. And no one expects Oklahoma City to regress over the final 60 games. "We were fully aware of (the Thunder’s talent),” Williams said. "If you come in not ready to play, this team is young and energetic and athletic and they’ll run you out the gym if you’re not prepared.” Text "OKTHUNDER” to 65360 for your chance to win an authentic adidas Kevin Durant No. 35 Jersey. NewsOK OKC Thunder news text alerts sponsored by Totally Tickets.