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Power Rankings: As second half begins, Thunder have most to prove

by | CBSSports.com Senior NBA Blogger

Durant did OKC proud at All-Star Weekend, earning MVP and runner-up in the 3-point contest. (Getty Images)  
Durant did OKC proud at All-Star Weekend, earning MVP and runner-up in the 3-point contest. (Getty Images)  

Updated Feb. 28

The second half of the season's theme should probably be "Test Yourselves." The lockout has produced some terrible, no-good, awful ball. But it's also provided a ton of excitement and a litany of great storylines. The schedule, combined with injuries and a lack of conditioning, means the second half of the year will likely be wide open.

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We know Miami and the Bulls will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. But beyond that, there's no telling.

The West is about as wide open as it gets, with the Thunder the clear favorites, but seemingly four or five teams able to make a run.

The key for the next two months is survival, dealing with the grueling pace of the schedule, ducking injury and resting guys whenever possible. But you also need to get hot going into the playoffs. The next month will be the proving ground for many teams, including the Thunder. That win over the Lakers last week was a signature one, and a chance for the Thunder to get themselves into a good frame of mind going forward.

But good isn't good enough. The West is so tough, the Thunder need to set themselves apart. There should be no doubt they are the favorites in the West and no one can challenge them.

The problem? The contenders in the West are all very good. Still, there's a lack of a credible second great team behind Oklahoma City. San Antonio's defense inside is still suspect. The Clippers' overall defense needs work and their offense can vanish at times. The Mavericks continue to struggle with operating on all cylinders. Even in impressive wins, they look as if their engines are shorting out from time to time. The Rockets don't have a star and the Grizzlies can't get it together.

So the Thunder need to establish they are the best team, no question, and they will be a force come June. This team has taken a step forward each year over the past four, but this is the big test. No more "see what they can do in the playoffs." They are no longer surprising. It's time to play like the title contenders they've become.


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