Loud Links : 01/19/2010

Tuesday's edition of Loud Links features a slew of articles looking at where the Thunder are near this midpoint. Much of it building on the articles from the past few days, what with us being sudden possible playoff contenders and all. There's a nice article with some quotes from various Hawks people, noting how similar the front office team-building approach has been. Then there's a few tidbits regarding the upcoming game. Enjoy.

NBA.com: Hawks, Thunder proof that building through youth works
The Hawks did not originate the method of drafting wisely and then sticking with their young players through thick and thin, but they did become experts at it, so much that others know a bright idea when they see it. Or steal it? If you didn't know any better, it sure appears Oklahoma City is trying to out-Hawk the Hawks. Good, young players are sprouting at nearly every position on the Oklahoma City roster and starting to mesh well together, and what's scary is they're growing at a faster pace than Atlanta. As proof, the Hawks received an up-close inspection of their Western Conference twin when the Thunder rolled into Philips Arena on the Martin Luther King holiday and delivered a progress report.

NBA.com: Durant in five, 10 more years? Be very, very afraid
And, really, in the last 20 years, the only player other than LeBron that deserved the "He's going to be scary" tag, as a 21-year-old pro, was Shaq. [Click here for a list of the best 21-year-olds in the history of the NBA.] By that age, Shaq was out-muscling and generally bullying the best centers in the game. It's comical to watch old replays of Shaq dunking on the Knicks as a beleaguered Patrick Ewing jogs up the court, trying not to shake his head. "You mean I have to deal with THIS for 10 more years?" Shaq was the scariest thing (not named Jordan) the modern game had ever seen. What is with all this talk about "scary?" I was in Philips Arena on Monday as Kevin Durant led his young Thunder squad (only two players averaging over 20 minutes a game are older than 25) to a tough, close road victory over the Hawks. The youngster had 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. He didn't shoot all that well (just 7-for-18), but he was relentlessly aggressive (14-for-15 from the line) and dominated most of the game by not only play, but personality. The Hawks, blessed with several interchangeable defenders, looked helpless at times.

Thunder-Timberwolves Preview - Jan. 19, 2010 - NBA - CBSSports.com
A red-hot Kevin Durant has boosted the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead in the Western Conference standings, but the team's improved defense has also played an important role. Oklahoma City will try to top last season's win total and move six games above .500 for the first time in five seasons by beating the host Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. In averaging 24.0 points over his first 195 games, the 21-year-old Durant has established himself as one of the league's top young players. He's been even better over his past 15, averaging 32.5 points and scoring at least 25 in each.

Thunder at the midpoint: Second-half schedule isn't as easy as it seems | NewsOK.com
But there’s nothing easy about the last leg. The Thunder closes the season with a 14-game gauntlet that should feature: →Eleven games against teams likely fighting to improve their seeding or to make the playoffs. →Five sets of back-to-back games that include second-night tests at Boston, Denver and Portland. →A critical late-March homestand against the Spurs, Rockets, Lakers and Trail Blazers. "We’ve got to play good ball," said Jeff Green. "When the time comes, we’ll deal with our record at the end of the season."

Jeff Green saves the day for the Thunder | NewsOK.com
Driving 35-feet to slam home the biggest basket of the game — arguably the biggest basket of the season — Green's dunk with 12.2 seconds left gave the Thunder a two-possession lead, the highlight of their 94-91 win over Atlanta ON Monday afternoon at Philips Arena. "That play was unbelievable, crazy," said Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha. "I had a good view. With his shoulder ahead of him, when he jumped, I was like, ‘This is going to be nice!' " Green, like Russell Westbrook in recent games, is showing that the Thunder has other late-game options if opponents continue to double-team Durant with the game on the line.

Scott Brooks recalls feistiness of early Minnesota Timberwolves - TwinCities.com
As Brooks settled into a seat at Target Center after Tuesday's practice, he reflected on the nights he wore his No. 1 Wolves jersey and the cheers he heard from fans who appreciated his hustle and fearless play. "It was a good time to be here," said Brooks, 44. "The city was behind us. It was a good place to live. We had so many marginal NBA players playing all out every minute, every game." At 5 feet 11, Brooks was one of those marginal players, averaging 5.2 points and 2.5 assists with the Wolves. He brought that hard-hat style of play to Oklahoma City — his first NBA head coaching job — and the Thunder (23-18) have become one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference. The Thunder face the Wolves (9-33) tonight at Target Center tied with Utah in the race for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Though the Thunder have 41 games remaining, that they're in playoff contention has steered attention to Brooks and makes him an early candidate for NBA coach of the year.

Thunder Hit Halfway Point | KSBI Thunder TV | News Sports Radar Weather Cams | Oklahoma City | Sports
What we do know is that this team is a lot of fun to watch! They have tremendous chemistry, great young talent and are held accountable to winning basketball standards by the coaching staff. Those elements have begun bringing national acclaim and a growing sentiment that they will be a factor come April in the playoff mix in the West. There is much intriguing surrounding the final 41 games. Stay tuned.

Gazing into the future: West's best | StarTribune.com
Questionable move: Choosing Harden third overall last summer because he was the better fit over Tyreke Evans' greater talent. Outlook: Thunder has leapfrogged to the top because of Durant's superstar promise and GM Sam Presti's series of astute moves.

Durant Profile in Sports Illustrated | Thunder Rumblings
The piece offers some really good insight into Durant, his work ethic and his personality. Really worth 20 minutes of your time. You’ll learn that Durant once, after a terrible game, watched Dennis the Menace and felt better and ready to return to the gym. You’ll also find it interesting that Durant claims his defensive improvement has been aided by the addition of Ron Adams but, "Ron doesn’t teach me schemes or how to guard people. He just gets on me and makes me feel bad."

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