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Fran Blinebury

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Kevin Durant (left) and Russell Westbrook say there's no need to discuss any alleged strife between them.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Thunder won't let past -- recent or distant -- trip them up


Posted Jan 2 2012 10:46AM

Just let it go.

That's what Kevin Durant did after gathering the inbounds pass from Thabo Sefolosha, turning and launching the high arcing shot that settled soft as baby's breath into the bottom of the net to beat the Mavericks.

Down by a point with 1.4 seconds left on the clock, there is no time to think or plot out every detail of how you're going to get open or how you're going to get the best look at the basket or how you're going to get it just over the outstretched hand of the defender, who in this case was a too-little-too-late Jason Terry. You can only be who you are.

Just let it go.

That was what Durant had to do with his own defensive lapse that put the Thunder into such desperate straits. He had sagged off Vince Carter just enough to give him room to catch and shoot his own 3-pointer that gave Dallas the lead.

Just let it go.

That is Durant's message to a harping media and a fretting fan base that wants to keep tugging and pulling at his relationship with Russell Westbrook, looking for the loose thread that could make it all unravel like a cheap sweater. After their emotional exchange of opinions and ideas at high volume during a timeout last week in Memphis, it should be noted that when the Thunder returned to the court Durant reached out and gave Westbrook a friendly pat on the head.

Oh, and by the way, OKC is a perfect 5-0.

"It's nothing people should be blowing out of proportion," Durant said. "It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions and things happen. It's a competitive sport, man. Everybody's not going to come in and be happy every single day. You know what I mean? I know you guys (media) like conflict.

"Just let it go."

It could be the mantra of the Thunder in this first season after shedding the Cinderella role and stepping into the white-hot spotlight of a true contender. Gone are the glass slippers after last spring's run to the Western Conference finals and in their place are the heavy work boots of high expectation.

What happened seven months ago was a wonderful, uplifting experience for a young bunch that is still learning to fit all of the pieces together, a necessary step along the path of growth and maturity. But now that should merely be pressed into a memory book like a lock child's haird. OKC can afford only to look ahead.

They are no longer the rolling Thunder of potential somewhere out over the distant horizon, but preseason favorites in many quarters to reach the NBA Finals. Nowhere is the role reversal more evident than in tonight's return match at Dallas (8:30 ET, NBA TV), where it is the defending champion Mavs who are laboring to find consistency with a 1-4 record while OKC is undefeated.

With that change come a new set of challenges for the Thunder. The days of getting a loud, lusty, heart-felt standing ovation from the home folks just for putting up a good fight against the Lakers are a part of the past. Now the national television cameras come zooming in not just to see the quaint small-town atmosphere, but to magnify and enlarge every zit, every flaw, every time that Westbrook might pull up and take a 3-pointer or make a bull-rush to the basket against three defenders while a wide-open Durant is frantically waving his arms for the ball.

It's the reason why the Westbrook-for-Chris-Paul rumors grew up through the cracks in the sidewalk during the lockout-extended off-season, even through Thunder coach Scott Brooks and general manager Sam Presti have shown no inclination to panic and reach for the reset button.

There are other areas of the Thunder game that have to be a greater concern and solidified: their team defense, getting a slimmed-down Kendrick Perkins more adapted and comfortable as a scorer and rebounder in the middle, developing an end-of-game strategy that is more than just having Durant toss up a long jumper and a prayer.

Their rise to the elite level and gobbling up nightly highlight reel slots on SportsCenter has been so swift that we tend to forget it was just 36 months ago -- Dec. 29, 2008 -- that the Thunder were dragging around a 3-29 record and seemingly on pace for the worst record in NBA history.

Except for six games during his brief college career at UCLA, the rookie Westbrook had little experience at running an offense and, in the two full seasons since then, OKC has finished 50-32 and 55-27. It would be so much easier if Westbrook were cut from the traditional pass-first point guard mold. Yet without cockiness and the bravado and the drama that he brings, the Thunder might not have the same lightning bolt potential to split the trunk of an oak tree open with one loud crack.

In a way, the so-called Westbrook dilemma has become as much a part of their identity as the roaring home-court atmosphere and James Harden's beard. It's easy to notice and makes a cheap hook, yet it belies the fact that it hasn't slowed the Thunder's gallop to the top of the West standings, tied with Miami as the best in the league. Truth is, as the hurry-up season progresses and the scrutiny becomes more intense, there's only thing they need to remember in OKC.

Just let it go.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. 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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