COMMENTARY | Through 31 games, it's pretty evident that the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-6) are the best team in the Western Conference.
That being said, the Western Conference is as competitive as it gets, as the top nine teams in the conference are over .500. The Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs are tied for second in the West, both at 25-7. Finally, the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and Golden State Warriors are all following in the playoff race.
Oklahoma City has won 12 of its last 14 games and is the hottest team in the NBA. The question now being presented to this Thunder team is: Which Western Conference foe is the biggest threat to the Thunder?
The six losses that Oklahoma City withheld were in Minnesota in the second game of the season; at Los Angeles against the Clippers when Serge Ibaka got ejected; when Andre Iguodala stunned the Thunder on a buzzer-beater in Golden State; in Portland; at home against Portland; and at home against the Toronto Raptors (gasp) in a trap game.
Are the Spurs a real threat? The two teams have matched up twice already this year, as the Thunder took both games with ease. Last Saturday in San Antonio, the Thunder were victorious 113-110. And the other time came on November 27, when Reggie Jackson went off for 23 points in a 94-88 win for the Thunder. In so, I don't see this Spurs team as a true threat. San Antonio is a bit too slow to keep up with the young and athletic Thunder team. However, the two teams will meet again on January 22 and April 3.
The bearded one? The Rockets were an intriguing team last year with James Harden. This year, with the addition of All-Star center Dwight Howard, Houston is even more of a threat. Or is it? Oklahoma City beat the Rockets by 31 on Sunday, and made the Rockets look like just another team in the West, without Russell Westbrook. A key to the blowout was the defensive production from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka on Howard, who was held to just nine points on 4-13 from the field.
Golden State and LA? Two of the six losses Oklahoma City encountered came on a back-to-back against both of these teams. Is there a reason to concern about these two teams? Nope. Why? Because both of them don't have a guy to throw at Kevin Durant. Out of the two, the Warriors present more of an issue than the Clippers because of their depth, scoring options, and the fact that the Thunder don't do a good job closing out on shooters.
What about Rip City? Ding, ding, ding. One-third of the loss column for the Thunder is thanks to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland has beaten Oklahoma City two times, both home and on the road.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a monster game with 38 points and 13 rebounds in the first match up between the two teams, which could present a problem. This Portland team is shocking the NBA right now, but if this was a playoff series, I would say Thunder in six games. But, all in all, the Portland Trail Blazers are the biggest threat to this Thunder team.
Eli Friedman has previously worked for Fansided.com, and Rant Sports as the Oklahoma City Thunder Beat Writer. Friedman's work has been published on FoxSports.com, ESPN TrueHoop affiliate dailythunder.com, and the OKC Thunder team page on SI.com. Eli has also appeared on many sports talk shows such as ESPN RADIO 1420.
You can follow Friedman on twitter @Eli_NBAOKC.
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