Oklahoma City looking for respect and a title

Posted: May 24, 2012

The Oklahoma City Thunder haven't found any shortcuts as they try to climb to the top of the Western Conference.

The Thunder's path through the postseason lined up so their first three opponents have been the only three teams to win the West since 1998.

It started with the Dallas Mavericks, who were trying to defend their NBA title. Next up was the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won five championships since 2000. In the Western Conference finals, the Thunder will now face the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs.

If the franchise can reach the NBA finals for the first time since losing to Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1996 as the Seattle SuperSonics, it will be after getting through the cream of the crop out West.

"You go over the last few years, and it's been the usual suspects at the top and it's been that way for a reason," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said, pondering how L.A. could get back to the top after getting eliminated by the Thunder.

Oklahoma City is well on its way to cementing a spot among the West's elite, improving each season since winning just 23 games after relocating from Seattle in 2008.

"We're not thinking about the history of the last Western Conference champions," said Oklahoma City backup center Nazr Mohammed, himself a veteran of the Spurs' 2005 championship team.

"All we're thinking about is San Antonio and what needs to be done."

The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio, with both teams getting the better part of a week of down time to prepare. Both teams took Tuesday off after Oklahoma City finished off a five-game series against the Lakers with a 106-90 victory on Monday night.

The Spurs completed their second straight playoff sweep by beating the L.A. Clippers on Sunday and have won 18 games in a row.

"We are proud of that," San Antonio sixth man Manu Ginobili said. "It's not easy to accomplish, but who cares? But now we're going to face in the conference finals against a very rough, skilled opponent."

Each team has a speedy, all-star point guard - San Antonio's Tony Parker against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. Each has a crafty, left-handed sixth man - the Spurs' Ginobili and the Thunder's James Harden.

And each has a reserved superstar, Tim Duncan against Kevin Durant. Both offenses can be deadly on the pick and roll.

Moving on back

The Golden State Warriors are ready to move back to San Francisco.

The NBA team, Commissioner David Stern and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee held a news conference Tuesday to announce the decision to leave Oakland. The earliest the team could move would be 2017, when it can escape its lease at Oracle Arena. The Warriors played in San Francisco from 1962 to 1971.

- Associated Press

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