The NBA season started Tuesday night for the defending champion Heat.
It starts Wednesday for the Thunder, and despite not having Russell Westbrook in the lineup for at least a month, Oklahoma City is still generating some national interest.
It might be because Kevin Durant is just that good or maybe it's because Westbrook is expected to return and be healthy and ready at some point this season.
With the two, the Thunder could very well be the team to beat. Without Westbrook? Well, we know what happened a season ago – the Thunder was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, losing in five games to Memphis.
While there's no timetable, meaning no guarantee Westbrook will return (see Derrick Rose), Westbrook has practiced to some extent in the preseason with the Thunder. He was even dunking at one point last week.
Of the teams to beat there are Rose and the Bulls, of course the Heat, a really good Indiana team as well as Golden State and the Clippers.
So, why would Sports Illustrated go out and pick the Thunder to win it, knowing Westbrook won't play for at least a month? Hard to figure, considering OKC didn't get any better in the offseason. They whiffed on a few free agents and lost 6th man Kevin Martin. The Thunder re-signed Derek Fisher and also added Ryan Gomes.
Durant will undoubtedly be asked to do a lot more – at least during the early part of the schedule – and he is the kind of player who can win games by himself. The Thunder, also will likely take on the approach used by the Spurs where it doesn't matter what seed you are during the regular season as long as you get into the playoffs.
The good news for the Thunder is they don't play Memphis or the Rockets each night. Durant is good enough to win games by himself. OKC's first six games come against teams that missed the playoffs last year. A quick start is a real possibility.
The question is if Durant tires, due to excessive minutes and pressure, how good will the finish be?