The Norman Transcript

April 21, 2013

Harden’s return is all business for OKC

Thunder and Rockets face-off in first round of NBA playoffs

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — They were supposed to be the makings of a dynasty. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were the foundation Oklahoma City built its championship aspirations on.

But after losing to Miami in the NBA Finals last season, that foundation came apart when Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. It took place Oct. 27 with the majority of Thunder fans watching the Oklahoma Sooners lose to Notre Dame on the gridiron.

“I was at the football game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I had a feeling it could potentially happen. But when it happened, I wished James well and welcomed our new players. It’s as simple as that. That’s part of the business ... without being cold to the situation, you have to move on.”

That night could have went down in history as the day the Thunder’s dream of a dynasty went up in smoke. However, Brooks said his team is made of stronger mettle than that.

“The guys that have been here for four or five years now, they understand what we do and we’ve been together and we just continue to push the team forward with a no-excuse mentality,” Brooks said. “This league can set you up for a lot of excuses. Whether you have an injury, you have a trade, you don’t make excuses. You do your job and have that no-excuses mentality.”

Like his coach, Durant doesn’t publicly dwell much on the Harden trade. He was surprised like everyone else the night it happened, but as the leader of a franchise with title aspirations, he knew the faster he got over it, the faster the rest of the team would as well.

“That was so long ago and so much stuff has happened since then,” Durant said. “We got Kevin Martin in, guys have gotten better. James has moved on.”

But Harden is back in Oklahoma City with his new teammates as the Thunder and Rockets face off in the first round of the NBA playoffs, which tips off at 8:30 p.m. today at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He probably wants to have a good game, and we don’t want him to have a good game,” Kendrick Perkins said of Harden. “That’s just how it is.”

Oklahoma City took two of the three games between the two teams in the regular season. It averaged 121 points in the three outings.

But Brooks said he doesn’t put much stock in previous outcomes. Houston was going through personal tragedies during one game and was still trying to get used to the trades that changed the face of the team.

Even though Oklahoma city (60-22) is the top seed in the West, from past experience, the players don’t envision this being an easy series against the Rockets (45-37).

“Each year we know what to expect in the first round,” Durant said. “We know how tough it is. Most people say one versus eight seed is easy, or a two-seven series. We’ve never had an easy series. Last year was so tough against Dallas, it took all we had to beat those guys. With Houston, they are playing better than an eight seed. We have our work cut out for us. But we are calm, focused and know what we need to do.”

The Thunder’s Thabo Sefolosha believes the team’s demeanor is due to the battles this team has been through together, even without Harden

“All of us are really focused,” Sefolosha said. “The experience we’ve had from the last three years I think helps us in those situations. We don’t want to be too relaxed and feel too good about ourselves. We just want to go play our brand of basketball.”

Michael Kinney

Follow me @eyeamtruth


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