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Art Garcia

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The Thunder are taking Oklahoma City by storm this season.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

From basement to playoffs not as hard as it may seem


Posted Jan 20 2010 4:44PM

Should the Thunder double their victory total from last season -- at the midpoint they're on pace to do so -- fans in Oklahoma City should light up Bricktown with a parade. The feat would be impressive and further confirmation the franchise is on the right track.

But as difficult as it may seem, multiplying wins by two in the span of a year isn't exactly unprecedented. It's actually downright common for a Lottery team to vault into playoff contention, or at least respectability, before the next Draft.

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Over the last 30 seasons, 16 teams have managed at least twice as many wins as the season before. It was almost a yearly occurrence during the last decade, as 10 franchises went double-or-something during the 2000s.

The Thunder won 23 games in their new hometown last year and matched that in the 41st game of this season. Should OKC duplicate its first half success, the 23-game improvement would rank only as the third best in the last four years.

The Celtics were a ridiculous 42 games better in 2007-08, going 66-16 and claiming the championship thanks to trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Heat sunk to 15-67 two years after winning their lone title (2006) and bounced back with 43 wins last year.

Udonis Haslem is one of just five players left from Miami's 15-win squad of 2007-08 that was sabotaged by injuries to everyone from Dwyane Wade to Shaquille O'Neal. The Heat needed to petition the league for extra roster spots that season and called up four players from the NBA D-League (Bobby Jones, Stephane Lasme, Blake Ahern and Kasib Powell).

Double the fun
Teams that have doubled their wins from one season to next (since 1980-81)
Season Team Record Previous Improvement
2007-08 Celtics 66-16 24-58 42
1997-98 Spurs 56-26 20-62 36
1989-90 Spurs 56-26 21-61 35
2004-05 Suns 62-20 29-53 33
2008-09 Heat 43-39 15-67 28
2001-02 Nets 52-30 26-56 26
2003-04 Nuggets 43-39 17-65 26
2004-05 Bulls 47-35 23-59 24
1988-98 Warriors 43-49 20-62 23
1994-95 Mavericks 36-46 13-69 23
1997-98 Celtics 36-46 15-67 21
2005-06 Hornets 38-44 18-64 20
2003-04 Cavaliers 35-47 35-47 20
2000-01 Clippers 31-51 15-67 16
1983-84 Rockets 29-53 14-68 15
2005-06 Hawks 26-56 13-69 13
*Lockout shortened season of 1998-99 and 1999-2000 not included
** All stats courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau.

Miami bounced back to 43-39 last season. Getting healthy was the major factor in the one-year turnaround, but Haslem doesn't underestimate embarrassment playing a part.

"Health and also, obviously, you carry a chip on your shoulder all summer," he said. "It's not a chip anybody likes to carry, winning 15 games. So basically you devote your whole summer, and your thought process, even when you're on vacation and getting ready for the season or whatever the situation may be, your mind is stuck on, 'Man, we were the worst team in the league.'

"Nobody likes to be at the bottom. Everybody wants to be at the top. Some people will settle for being in the middle, but nobody likes to be at the bottom. I think for us, our whole summer was basically concentrating on getting that monkey off our back."

Miami swingman Dorell Wright agreed that getting your horses back on the court is the first step, but the process of becoming a team is also vital. He mentioned the Thunder, whose core group has grown together the last few years.

"Another big thing is a whole bunch of guys who have been there together like Oklahoma City," Wright said. "I know a lot of those guys have been playing together for a little while now. And just going out there every night and leaving it out there on the court. That's the main thing, I think, leaving it out there on the court every night."

Thunder forward Kevin Durant couldn't agree more. OKC has put itself in playoff contention in the rugged Western Conference with the league's second-youngest roster. (Memphis is the youngest.)

"We work hard. I'm a big believer that if you work hard, things are going to start to show," Durant said. "We come in every day and work hard as a group. Our coaches work hard, everybody from the GM all the way to the trainers, we work hard every day and if we continue to do that we're only going to move forward.

"That's how I picture things. Guys come in and bring their focus every day, so I know it's just a matter of time before we started to become a team that's rising up."

As remarkable as Oklahoma City's turnaround has been, a few other teams are in position to take a huge step forward from last season based on their current winning percentage. The Clippers are on pace to win 38 after managing 19 a year ago, Memphis could go to 45 wins (after 24 last season) and the Kings are on pace for 31 wins, after just 17 last season.

But no one has ridden the victory roller coaster lately like Miami. The Heat went from NBA champions, to the league's worst record two years later and back to the playoffs last season. Just doubling their wins wasn't a goal.

"We didn't even think about it," Haslem said. "Our whole focus was to get in the playoffs. Nobody had come from where we had come from and came back and made the playoffs, but we weren't thinking about making history. We knew we were better than the way we performed the year prior and our whole focus that next season was getting into the playoffs, however we had to do it."

Rising up for Haiti

At least 80 percent of the league's teams and countless players have joined the effort to bring aid to the earthquake victims of Haiti. Sixers center Samuel Dalembert, a native of Port-Au-Prince, was given permission by the team to spend Tuesday in Haiti working with Project Medishare and UNICEF. He'll return in time for Wednesday's home game against Portland.

Dwyane Wade of Heat and NBA legend Alonzo Mourning co-founded the Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti, which has received donations from at least 20 NBA players and seven NFL players, and raised more than $1 million. Jazz forward Carlos Boozer is among those who have given substantially.

"My mom and dad always told me that if you have the opportunity to help someone in need, you should," Boozer said. "The people of Haiti need help and we're blessed enough to be in a position where we can offer it."

The donation of Chris Paul was among the most personal. The Hornets star gave $61,616.61 in honor of his late grandfather, who was murdered at the age of 61. Paul said, as a citizen of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, he understands firsthand the need to help.

"As the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?'" Paul said.

More tales of NBA players joining the effort and asking for support can be found on NBA.com. For information of making a pledge, visit UNICEF online.

Voting reform?

Ray Allen's suggestion to break All-Star voting into three groups comes off as a little too much NFL. While the idea of giving the players and media input has merit, fans have always decided the NBA's starters. It's tradition.

And not a bad one.

That doesn't mean it can't be tweaked. Enter the league's resident idea man, Mark Cuban. The Mavericks' owner offered an alternative to keep the vote in the hands of the fans, but with some fans counting more than others.

"I'm a big believer that votes inside the arena should count double those on the Internet," Cuban said.

Web and mobile voting, especially from outside North America, are often cited when players such as Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson are in the running to start when their performance suggests otherwise. Those who actually spend their money to attend NBA games may not necessarily be "bigger" fans than those who don't, but why not add a little incentive to those who show up?

Cuban has a horse (Dirk Nowitzki) in the race, and the Mavericks are annually among the league leaders in attendance. So, theoretically, arena votes would help Cuban's players more. Nowitzki, second among Western Conference forwards in the last returns, never has been voted a starter.

"It would be nice for it to happen in Dallas," Cuban said.

Some guys sell

We'll get the results of the league's annual popularity contest Thursday night on TNT, when they'll announce the starters for next month's All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium. But are those names also the most fashionable when it comes to wearing them on your back?

Yeah, probably. The league's most popular jersey so far this season, as sold at the NBA Store in New York City and NBAStore.com, is Kobe Bryant's. The Lakers star retained the ranking he's held since the start of the 2008-09 season.

LeBron James (Cavaliers) maintains the second spot, while Dwight Howard (Magic) and Derrick Rose (Bulls) appear in the top five for the first time. The Lakers, Celtics and Cavs are the top three in most popular merchandise.

Surprise, surprise.

Quotable

"He's a great, unbelievable dunker. He's awesome above the rim. He's in the category of Vince Carter, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins."
-- Dwight Howard on Slam Dunk competitor Shannon Brown.

Starting 5

1. Are there enough Americans out there to vote Stephon Marbury into the Chinese Basketball Association All-Star Game?

2. Kevin Garnett is back at practice. Don't you hear him?

3. Gregg Popovich is the Twitter Coach of the Year. All his postgame answers are less than 140 characters.

4. The Wizards don't want to void Gilbert Arenas' contract? Nothing says 'We want you back' like stripping the Verizon Center of any proof you ever played for the team.

5. Vinny Del Negro gets my vote for Most Improved Coach within the Season. Now we just need that award.

Give-n-Go: Jerry Stackhouse

AG: Back with the Bucks, what was the first practice like? It's been a while.

JS: I tried to push myself a little bit. It's a transition trying to learn the offense, but I got a good sweat in [Tuesday] and I'm excited about tonight and our prospects going forward. [Milwaukee plays host Toronto Wednesday night.] I can't do it all in one night and I'm not where I hopefully will be in a few weeks.

AG: Any advice for Brandon Jennings?

JS: We've got that old Oak Hill tie. We hit it off really good right away. It was the same with all the guys. Some grew up watching me play, so it's cool in that sense. But at the same time we're trying to win games and make it to the postseason. That's really the goal of this team right now.

AG: Being an elder statesman suit you?

JS: Is that the word for it now? It is what it is. I was looking down the roster and saw Brandon Jennings was born in 1989. Six years later I was drafted in the NBA. I just thank God for allowing me to be in the position I'm in and still be able to play. A lot of guys would love to be in my shoes.

AG: What's the future hold?

JS: Last year (in Dallas) was a tough year, so I'm taking it one day at a time. I know that sounds very cliché, but I'm not thinking about next year or the year after that. If I do what I need to do with this team, then it will have value, whether with this team or another. Just being able to go out on my own terms as opposed to going out with injuries means a lot. I've contributed a lot to the game and the game has been great to me.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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