Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

How they can win it all: The Oklahoma City Thunder

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How did we forget about the Oklahoma City Thunder? After Kevin Durant’s season-long coming-out party last season and the tough fight the young Thunder put up against the eventual champion Lakers, the Thunder were everyone’s pick to put it all together and establish themselves as one of the league’s elite teams this season. They did that, but they managed to fly under the radar last season. The Thunder looked very good before the trade deadline; since they traded for Kendrick Perkins, they’ve looked downright scary. Here’s how the Thunder can bring a title to Oklahoma City:

1. Firepower

I don’t need to tell you about Kevin Durant. He led the league in scoring this season — again. He scores efficiently, and he can do it from anywhere on the court. He has a silky-smooth jumper, he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, he can catch and shoot coming off of picks, and his “rip” move allows him to get to the line over and over again and knock down free throws. He’s a scorer’s scorer, and he’s one of the most unstoppable offensive players in the league.

The Thunder were impressive when Durant was essentially a one-man show on offense last season. This season, he has help. Russell Westbrook made a huge leap this season. He was always able to blow by anyone in the league and get into the paint, put pressure on the defense in plays, and make sharp passes. This season, he’s put his offensive game together. He’s a much better shooter, he’s a much better finisher at the rim, and he’s far more consistent than he was last season. Last year, the Thunder fell to the Lakers because the offense went stagnant and Ron Artest and Co. were able to hold Kevin Durant in check. This season, with Westbrook putting pressure on the defense with penetration, Durant is free to move without the ball and get far more open catch-and-shoot jumpers and easy lanes to the basket.

James Harden has come on strong in the last few months, and he’s become the kind of all-around scoring threat the Thunder hoped he would be when they drafted him with the third overall pick. Serge Ibaka has made huge strides as an offensive player. Eric Maynor has emerged as one of the best backup point guards in the league. Last year, the Thunder’s dirty little secret was that they weren’t a great offensive team, despite Durant’s brilliance; this year, they’re a top-five offensive team.

2. Defense

Last season, the Thunder were able to win 50 games because of their surprisingly effective defense. It looked like they forgot about that at the beginning of this season. While they were still winning games playing run-and-gun basketball, they weren’t nearly as effective on defense as they were last season, and they were one of the worst teams in the league at defending the rim.

Then they traded Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins, and everything changed. There were too huge benefits to trading for Perkins. First of all, the Thunder were playing Ibaka out of position at center, which wasn’t the best use of his talents, and playing Jeff Green at the power forward. Jeff Green cannot defend opposing power forwards, and each lineup that featured Green at the four had major defensive issues.

With Perkins playing center, Ibaka was able to slide to his natural power forward position, where his athleticism makes him a force defensively. Before the deadline, the Thunder had a decent defender starting at the center position and a horrible defender starting at the power forward position. Now, they start great defenders at both the center and the power forward positions. It’s hard to overstate how much of a difference that makes. The Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant/Green/Ibaka lineup had a defensive rating of 113.79 — the Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant/Ibaka/Perkins lineup has a defensive rating of 102.02. These Thunder play defense.

3. The “Why Not Us?” Factor

The Thunder are a young team, and don’t have to bear the burden of expectations the way the other title contenders do. They have some of the best fans in the league. They have great chemistry. They have the confidence that youth brings with very little of the immaturity. They have as much talent as any team in the league, and the mentality of a bracket-busting college squad. That combination can absolutely create a champion. Most are expecting that Oklahoma City’s championship will come a few years down the road, but there’s no reason that it can’t happen for them this year. They know that. And the rest of the league may be about to find that out.

Report: Heat, Chris Bosh clashed over Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2016 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Chris Bosh missed the second half of the 2015-16 season with a reoccurrence of the blood clots that kept him out much of last season, and the situation was clouded by a lack of clarity. Reports emerged closer to the playoffs that Bosh and the Miami Heat disagreed about the handling of Bosh’s condition, that he wanted to play and doctors wouldn’t allow it. The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson has some new details of their disagreement, which centered around Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg — an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

As much as Bosh believed the blood thinners would be out of his system, the Heat were right to handle it the way they did. Even if timing the medication differently lessened the risk of playing, the Heat were still the ones responsible for what happened when he played. If something were to happen to him, the Heat would have to be the ones to explain how they let their medical staff be overruled by Bosh and allowed him to be placed in a life-threatening situation. Both Bosh and the Heat are apparently optimistic that he’ll be able to return next season, but blood clots are nothing to play around with, and taking an overly cautious approach this season was better than the alternative.

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff in talks to join David Fizdale’s staff in Memphis

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 21:   Head coah J.B. Bickerstaff of the Houston Rockets looks on at Toyota Center on April 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Now that former Heat assistant David Fizdale has accepted the Grizzlies’ head coaching job, he’s starting to put together his staff. One name to keep an eye on, according to John Martin of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis: J.B. Bickerstaff, who served as the Rockets’ interim coach this season after the team fired Kevin McHale in November.

The Rockets were a chemistry disaster this season, but Bickerstaff is highly regarded around the NBA in coaching circles. He was a candidate to keep the coaching job in Houston when the Rockets’ front office began their search, but he withdrew his name from consideration when he started receiving interest around the league as a lead assistant. It sounds like Memphis is one of the teams going after him, and he’d be a good hire for Fizdale’s staff.

Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob does “we’re not worthy” bow to Klay Thompson

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Thompson “ridiculous.” That may be an understatement.

Thompson had 41 points, hit an NBA record 11 three-pointers in a playoff game, and the Golden State Warriors don’t force a Game 7 without him.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob may have had the best response, he drops to his knees and does the “we’re not worthy” bow before Thompson in the hallway postgame. (As there are reports a return trip to the Finals again could be worth $40 million to the franchise, Lacob should be bowing to Thompson for making that even possible.)

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Hat tip Eye on Basketball.

Reports: Bucks to extend Jason Kidd’s contract, hire Jazz’s Justin Zanik as assistant GM

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 20:  Head coach Jason Kidd of the Milwaukee Bucks stands on the court during introductions to the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 20, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Bucks defeated the Suns 101-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Bucks have a promising young core — led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, John Henson, and Kris Middleton — but one that took a step back this past season. Setbacks can mean changes in the power structure of an organization, and there are changes coming to Milwaukee.

However, not in the coaching ranks — Jason Kidd isn’t going anywhere, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Bucks are moving toward a contract extension with Kidd as coach, league sources said.

There will be changes further up the ladder.

John Hammond, the GM who was the architect of the current roster, has just one year left on his current contract, and the Bucks are bringing in Utah’s Justin Zanik as a GM in waiting, according to Wojnarowski.

Zanik, an assistant general manager with Utah, will join the Bucks with a similar job title – and an agreement that he will eventually become the successor to Milwaukee GM John Hammond, sources said.

Zanik has constructed a strong reputation within the league as a front-office executive and previously a player agent. Milwaukee was aggressive in pursuing him to eventually lead the franchise’s basketball operations.

The key is can Zanik and Kidd work together — Kidd has consistently pushed for more power in personnel decisions.

Bucks owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry have been aggressive since buying the team, and you can expect Zanik will be under orders to get this team back to the playoffs and back on an upward trajectory. That may just take time as all their young talent comes together. Well, that and they have to figure out how to make Greg Monroe fit with everyone else.