2 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

October 27, 2014

2013--14 RECORD: 59--23 (1ST IN NORTHWEST) COACH: SCOTT BROOKS (7TH SEASON WITH THUNDER)

SPOTLIGHT

The Thunder's latest title chase ended because the walls closed in on MVP Kevin Durant. After shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc during the regular season, Oklahoma City lost its touch in the playoffs. Facing top 10 defenses nightly, the team sank just 32.3% from deep, the worst mark among the eight conference semifinalists, with Durant's proficiency falling from 39.1% to 34.4%. In the West finals the Spurs drilled more threes (61 to 41) at a much higher percentage (39.6 to 30.1) than the Thunder.

OKC's dramatic decline again raised questions: Why did the NBA's premier scorer have so little room to breathe and so little backing beyond Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka? Where was Durant's perimeter release valve?

Enter Anthony Morrow, 29, a 6'5" journeyman guard with an uncomplicated game. He won't attack much off the dribble or play lockdown defense. Instead, the undrafted Morrow feasts on open jumpers, finishing in the top 10 in three-point accuracy four times and connecting on 42.8% from beyond the arc in six seasons.

Morrow's arrival on a three-year, $10 million deal is timely because the departures of Caron Butler, Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha have created holes on the wing. Durant's early-season focus is on recovering from a broken right foot, but come April he will be looking for support once more. Though Morrow has yet to make the playoffs, his marching orders are clear: Do his best impression of Steve Kerr and Mike Miller when they helped shoot their teams to titles.

PROJECTED LINEUP

(2013--14 STATS)

STARTERS

PG

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

21.8 PPG; 6.9 APG; 5.7 RPG; 43.7 FG%

SG

ANDRE ROBERSON

1.9 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 0.5 SPG; 48.5 FG%

SF

KEVIN DURANT

32.0 PPG; 7.4 RPG; 5.5 APG; 50.3 FG%

PF

SERGE IBAKA

15.1 PPG; 8.8 RPG; 2.7 BPG; 53.6 FG%

C

KENDRICK PERKINS

3.4 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 45.1 FG%

BENCH

PG

REGGIE JACKSON

13.1 PPG; 4.1 APG; 3.9 RPG; 44.0 FG%

C

STEVEN ADAMS

3.3 PPG; 4.1 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 50.3 FG%

BEST CASE

Healthy in the playoffs this time, the Thunder win the franchise's first title since 1979.

WORST CASE

An early playoff loss in the stacked West stokes speculation about Durant's 2016 exit in free agency.

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE THUNDER

If Kevin Durant returns healthy, they can get to the Finals because of their top four players. I'm not sold on the depth, though.... Durant can score from anywhere. If you guard him at 20 feet, he steps back and shoots from 25. The best way to defend him is to make him guard and try to wear him down. Run him through screens, keep him in motion, attack him off switches.... Critics jump on Russell Westbrook for terrible shots and turnovers, but Durant understands this team needs him to play with confidence. When Westbrook makes tough plays, Durant is one of the first to dap him up.... Westbrook could be even better if he were more content playing off the ball. Defenses go under pick-and-rolls and hope he shifts into prove-it mode by firing threes, which disrupts the Thunder's flow.... Serge Ibaka is athletic enough at the four to defend on the perimeter. But offense has become more important to him than defense, which used to be his passion. Now he's more about being a jump shooter.... Reggie Jackson got better at working off the ball and spotting up. He was a more consistent defender too.... Steven Adams improved as his rookie year progressed. He has good size and strength; he rebounds and challenges shots at the rim. Sometimes he gets caught up in the physical part. They need him because Nick Collison is getting old and lacks Adams's size, and Kendrick Perkins has regressed on both ends.... I don't see a lot of people going to a Scott Brooks coaching clinic anytime soon. He manages players well, but on out-of-timeout or end-of-game plays he's near the bottom of the league.

PHOTOGREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDWestbrook is top dog as Durant sits. FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)