Yeah, San Antonio has won four titles and Tim Duncan’s club continues to be one of the great purveyors of what the game should be: Sharing the ball, disciplined play, finding a way to win. But the Spurs have never moved the national needle like Russell Westbrook flying down the floor at warp speed.
Durant and Westbrook are the one, great hope to ensure LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Kobe and big-market teams everywhere don’t step on the little guys annually. The Thunder is essentially the next generation of Sacramento, where the Kings of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby and all their great role players captivated the country with their stop-and-pop game and came so close to winning it all.
And at the exact moment OKC appears ready, the Lakers buy at least another round in the playoffs, make themselves matter again via their wallet before Kobe calcifies.
Yep. Feel sympathy for the most recent Little Team That Could. But feel worse for Indiana. The Pacers are the NBA’s biggest problem. In theory, Indiana should actually be that team that graduates to championship caliber within two years. They have good, young players on the cusp of being perennial all-stars.
It took the Pacers awhile, but Indiana has rebuilt after the loss of Reggie Miller and the best team in franchise history from a decade ago.
But, really, what chance do the Pacers have of getting to the NBA Finals? Maybe they could beat the Bulls, who will be without Derrick Rose until 2013. Maybe they could somehow stun the Heat, whose number they almost had last season, in the first round or polish off a decrepit Celtics team or a not-yet-ready 76ers squad in the second round.
But the chances of the Pacers beating all those teams in a seven-game series en route to the Finals is almost none. They are not a bona fide contender. Neither is Denver, Memphis, the Knicks, Philadelphia, Dallas and any franchise but a small smattering of teams: In ascending order the Spurs, Celtics, a healthy Bulls team, the Lakers, Thunder and Heat have a real shot to hoist the trophy. And if we’re being brutally honest, there are only three who have the firepower to pull it off: Miami, Oklahoma City and those plucky scrappers doing it on a shoestring budget in L.A.
There are no L.A. Kings, coming from the eighth seed to hoist the Cup, in the NBA. There are no New York Giants, who had to win their last game to qualify for the playoffs before rolling to the Super Bowl. There are only bright lights, pastels, beaches . . . the opulence of Miami and L.A., of LeBron and Kobe, seeing who can court the better teammates to join their thriving corporation.
In this ongoing Star Wars league, it’s all on the Thunder. Help us, Kevin Durant. You’re our only hope.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.