Kevin Durant: Warriors, Spurs aren't 'light years better than us'
Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant understands the magnitude of the seasons the Golden State Warriors (42-4) and San Antonio Spurs (39-7) are respectively having.
But he also believes that his Thunder (35-13) aren't that far away from those two teams -- they simply haven't won as many games (via Yahoo Sports):
"I’m not saying that they’re necessarily light years better than us," Durant told Yahoo Sports. "Those other teams are playing at a crazy, crazy level, winning a lot of games. They’ve won more games than we did. That’s the difference."
The Thunder were supposed to be the team of the decade after making the NBA Finals in 2012 behind the efforts of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
But Harden was traded in the fall of 2012 after he and the Thunder couldn't come to terms on an extension, and the Thunder have suffered a major injury to one of their three stars in each of the subsequent playoffs ever since (except last season, when they failed to make the postseason because of injuries to Durant and Westbrook).
Oklahoma City hasn't lived up to its potential, and has watched a juggernaut in Golden State emerge and steal its thunder (no pun intended). The Warriors are now the team of the decade, poised to win multiple championships -- the way the Thunder were supposed to -- and even have an outside shot at clearing enough cap space to make a run at Durant at this summer.
The Spurs, the last team to eliminate the Thunder in the playoffs, are still around -- and better than ever. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the new dramatic power in the East, replacing the Miami Heat behind the talents of LeBron James -- Durant's primary adversary.
All three of the aforementioned teams receive a ton more coverage and praise than the Thunder do -- and deservedly so, to an extent -- but it doesn't seem to bother Durant anymore. He's gotten used to it playing in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have never recieved the coverage of the biggest markets, and aren't as novel or exciting as they were a few years ago.
After a half-decade of contention and no title to show for it, people are starting to write them off, which doesn't surprise Durant:
"This world loves anything new," Durant told Yahoo. "We’ve been here for so long. But we haven’t won a title. That’s the thing. Everybody loves the new guy, the new team. We’ve just been consistent. We’ve had some tough years, injury-wise. Other than that, we’ve always been here. We’re always considered one of the top teams in the league and we’re always going to continue to work like we’re one of the top teams in the league and strive for that greatness."
The Thunder -- despite having a better record than the Cavs (32-12) percentage-wise -- are flying under the radar, and that has some benefits. It's taken the pressure off what was supposed to be the "story" of the season: Durant's impending free agency this offseason, and how OKC's performance this year would dictate his decision to stay or bolt to another franchise.
Instead, all people are talking about are the Dubs chasing 72 wins, the Spurs' historic point differential, and the Cavs' firing of coach David Blatt. If ranking the most compelling stories this season, the Thunder are a lot closer to No. 10 than they are to No. 1, which actually says more about the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs than it does about the Thunder.
Durant is right. The Warriors and Spurs aren't "light years" better than the Thunder. But as of right now those two teams are demonstrably better. Though the gulf isn't as big as most think, it's still there.
With that said, the Thunder are certainly in the title conversation. They have the second-best offense and 12-best defense, a top-3 point differential, and are on pace to win 60 games. That's a championshop favorite any other season.
The Cavs probably have the third-best odds of winning it all right now just because they have an easier path to the championship -- the Thunder will likely have to go through the Warriors and Spurs -- meaning their chances are higher by virtue of merely appearing in the Finals.
But if Oklahoma City can catch a break -- an injury to the Warriors or Spurs, or a Thunder player catching fire at the right time -- they certainly can make the Finals, and would probably be favored over the Cavs or whoever comes out of the East.
As long as Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are together, Oklahoma City has as good of a chance as almost anyone, and should be acknowledged as a legitimate contender.
Don't sleep on the Thunder.
Jovan Buha covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jovanbuha.