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The Thunder Keep on Rolling

The scorching-hot Oklahoma City Thunder are 32-8 and making the rest of the league look plain silly right now. Kevin Durant is inarguably one of the best players on the planet (second only to LeBron, if not first), and he illustrated that wonderfully during a 117-114 OT win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Durant scored a career-best 52 points during the game.

“Experience has helped me a lot,” said Durant after the win. “If I look like I’m out there panicking, my teammates will look at me and feel the same way. I’ve got to be cool. If I miss a shot, so be it. I’m sure opportunity will come back around sooner or later.”

Of course, he got to the stripe a lot during the game; he went a perfect 21 for 21 from the line. The Mavericks were upset about it afterward, but that’s part of Durant’s game; nobody in the league is better at drawing fouls, and few are better at cashing in at the free throw line when they get the chance.

“For a guy getting 52, I think this is about as well as you can guard him,” said the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki after the game. “Obviously, I think we could have kept him off the line on some occasions where we reach in or he gets to the line because he’s Kevin Durant. Twenty-one (free throws) is too much, especially if he shoots them like a layup.”

The Thunder, despite trading their third-best player in James Harden to the Houston Rockets during the offseason, are playing some of the best offensive basketball you are ever likely the see. They lead the league in scoring, averaging 105.7 points per game, while giving up an average of only 96.4 points per game. They are the second most heavily favored team to win the NBA Championship behind the Miami Heat; you can get them at 7-2 odds right now, and if they keep rolling the league the way they have done so far, that could seem like a bargain in a few months. They’re even more heavily favored to win ; they’re currently 9-5 favorites there.

Before the matchup against the Mavericks, Durant revealed that he studies Dirk Nowitzki’s shot to add a deeper skill set to his already-bursting offensive arsenal. “Imitation is the best form off flattery, I guess,” Durant said. “I wanted to learn it because I’m 6-(foot)-9 and Dirk uses it so much on us in the playoffs and the regular season. I’m like, ‘Man, if he can master his shot, I’m going to try to do the same thing.’ ”

That is what makes Durant, and thus the Thunder by extension, so very dangerous. Their best player is averaging 29.3 points per game, and is increasing his offensive capabilities every day. Russell Westbrook, the often-criticized shoot-first point guard on the team, has toned down some of his greater deficiencies and is having the best season of his young career. Serge Ibaka, the shot-blocking big man that the Thunder chose to sign instead of James Harden, is piecing together his defensive and offensive games, and if they ever fully gel together he could be yet another devastating weapon for the Thunder (he already is one on the defensive end of the floor). The Thunder are the best team in the NBA right now, but the scary thing is that they’re still improving. Take them to win the Western Conference without thinking twice.

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