A statistical projection developed by John Hollinger pegs the Oklahoma City Thunder as this season’s most likely NBA champions. So does Kevin Pelton’s formula.
The Thunder of have the the league’s best record (42-12_, best player (Kevin Durant) and arguably best No. 2 once he returns (Russell Westbrook). They’ve been to the Finals before and have fallen short.
This is the exact profile of a team that should face immense pressure to win a title.
So why hasn’t Oklahoma City, which admittedly does deal with some high expectations, come under the strongest microscope?
And he knows it.
When does he think the pressure will truly shift to Durant to take the Larry O’Brien trophy?
“When I retire,” James replied. “When I retire. They’re still talking about, am I going to win a third? You know…”
LeBron is the most analyzed athlete of all time. The best player in basketball, a sport with the most identifiable stars, he’s failed and succeeded in dramatic fashion during the internet era. Nobody before him has been put so thoroughly through the ringer on Twitter, television and hundreds of other forms of communication.
He’s won the last two NBA titles, so thoroughly capturing our attention that Durant and the Thunder don’t have a chance. The pressure on LeBron to win a title his first season in Miami was higher than on any non-defending champion ever, so it sure hasn’t gone away now that the Heat have entrenched themselves as favorites.
Not even Durant’s MVP-caliber season will change that.
However, I wonder whether Durant’s success influenced LeBron’s quote. I thought Ben Standig of CSN Washington might a wise point yesterday:
Until recently, LeBron hadn’t sought as much attention during the Heat’s championship run. But that’s changed in a hurry.
It seemed LeBron learned a less from his bluster during his first year in Miami – “Not one, not two, not three…” – and wanted to keep a, relatively, lower profile.
Now, I think he’s purposefully going out of his way to draw attention. The Heat have coasted most of the season. If they don’t kick it into gear, they won’t win a third straight title. Maybe a brighter spotlight will bring out their best effort.
The plan makes sense. Miami can’t keep going like this.
As LeBron knows, the pressure is on.