SiriusXM NBA Radio host Justin Termine takes a look at the Western Conference in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
In order to be considered an all-time great, you need to win a title. You need to win multiple titles. One isn’t good enough. Two isn’t either. To be mentioned with Russell, and Jordan, and Magic, and Larry, and Kareem, you need to win at least three. Wilt won two, and to some that’s a negative when judging his career, despite all his numbers.
Eventually, Kevin Durant will need to do more than just win scoring titles, win MVPs, and put up 41 straight games of 25 points. Eventually, he’ll need to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Then do it again. Then do it again.
Just don’t blame him if the Thunder don’t win this year.
There are several reasons Durant has yet to hit the point where the pressure should be overbearing. In addition to being just 25, you can point to the fact he plays on a team where Derek Fisher plays too much and Russell Westbrook shoots to much. You can point to a Thunder team that doesn’t score enough easy baskets in the paint and gives up too many easy ones from beyond the arc. And it doesn’t take much to realize he plays with Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha – two members of the starting lineup who have combined for just 13 points through the first two games of their opening-round playoff series.
But, the main reason Durant needs to be cut some slack: The Path.
While his nemesis (or, maybe it’s “best friend” these days) LeBron James gets to cruise through perhaps the weakest conference in the history of the sport, Durant has to navigate the hellacious Western Conference.
While LeBron is cruising against the Bobcats and a banged up Al Jefferson as a No. 2 seed in the East, as a No. 2 seed in the West, Durant is stuck facing Memphis. The same Memphis team that compiled the third best record in the NBA since Jan. 14, when Marc Gasol returned. (Not to mention the best defense in the NBA.) With 50 wins, Memphis would have been the third seed in the East, and potentially its best team. In the West, they’re seventh. Since the Heat came together in 2010, only Boston has had more success against Miami than Memphis. That’s the team Oklahoma City has to face in the first round.
And read that carefully – just the first round. Even if they do advance (I picked Oklahoma City to lose), then it’s off to face the Clippers, then San Antonio, before eventually getting to Miami. If they somehow make a run like that … now that’s an historic championship. No lay-ups, no gimmies, no clear paths. It’d be reminiscent of what Larry Bird did in the ’80s, having to go through the Sixers, and Bulls, and Bucks, and Hawks, and Knicks, just to get the chance to play Magic and Kareem and Worthy and Riley.
This isn’t just the case for the Thunder. The Spurs, Clippers, or whoever else comes out of the West is in the same boat. Just look at the first three days of the postseason. The Mavs had the Spurs sweating late, the Clippers and Warriors are even through the first two games, and the Blazers and Rockets played an exhausting instant classic. For the next two months we’re going to love the West. It’ll be like this every night. Fun for us; fatiguing for them. And that is why whoever comes out of the East may have the edge: they’ll have fresh, healthy bodies.