Tahlequah Daily Press

Thunder/NBA

October 30, 2013

Durant still confident OKC among NBA’s best teams

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant isn’t about to let last season’s playoff disappointment affect his mindset this season.

Nor is the Thunder forward adjusting his expectations for a team that is two seasons removed from reaching the NBA Finals.

“We’re very confident that we can (win the championship),” Durant said. “We’re not going to come in and say, ‘We can’t win it all; we don’t have enough.’ We’re a confident group of guys.”

Few would have questioned Durant’s expectations a year ago when Oklahoma City — fresh off an appearance in the NBA Finals — was viewed across the league as a team on the rise.

Of course, that was two knee surgeries ago for point guard Russell Westbrook.

Oklahoma City, even with Durant once again leading the way, enters this season with a certain degree of uncertainty — thanks in large part to curiosity about the health of Westbrook. The Thunder, who led the Western Conference with a 60-22 record last season, are expected to be without the All-Star for the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from surgery to remove a loose stich on Oct. 1.

Westbrook originally injured his knee during the opening round of last season’s playoffs against Houston, a series Oklahoma City eventually won before falling in the second round to Memphis.

He underwent successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus and appeared on track for a full recovery before the second surgery — a setback Oklahoma City general manger Sam Presti said was minimized because of Westbrook’s positive outlook and already strengthened knee.

Oklahoma City is accustomed to overcoming doubt, having finished with the West’s best record last year even after the trade that sent James Harden to the Rockets. That was thanks in large part to Durant’s 28.1 points last season, as well as Westbrook’s 23.2 points and 7.4 assists per game.

Westbrook’s injury had a crippling effect at times on the Thunder’s offense during the playoffs — with Durant’s shooting percentage falling from 51 percent during the regular season to 42 percent in the loss to the Grizzlies.

This season, Oklahoma City must once again overcome the loss of a key offensive piece, with guard Kevin Martin — a key part of the Harden trade — leaving as a free agent to Minnesota.

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