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NBA Playoff Predictions: Can Oklahoma City Thunder Make Noise in 2011 Playoffs?

The 2011 NBA Playoffs are right around the corner, and all 16 of the postseason berths have been clinched. The Eastern and Western Conference have eight teams each who will battle it out for a trip to the 2011 NBA Finals. Yet while we may know which teams will continue playing once the regular season, it remains to be seen who they will match up with and which team will have home court advantage in each series.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are making a lot of noise in just their third season away from the Emerald City. They have drastically improved in each season, and they are poised to finally advance past the first round, although things will still not be easy for head coach Scott Brooks and company.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the top players in the game today, and one of the best scoring duos in the league. But with the addition of Kendrick Perkins at the NBA trade deadline, this team has attempted to go back to it's defensive roots.

Perkins not only brings along playoff experience, having reached the NBA Finals twice with the Boston Celtics and winning it all in 2008, but he also brings a certain toughness that this team had been lacking.

That may what has everyone talking about the Thunder all of a sudden as an NBA championship contender.

But it will not be easy. They will most likely take on the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, but that could still change, depending on how things shake it toward the top and bottom of the standings out west. The Nuggets have played great basketball since they traded away Carmelo Anthony, so it will be no easy task.

Oklahoma City would be then staring at a matchup against either the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers. The Thunder just destroyed the Lakers last night, giving them great confidence as the postseason nears.

Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Times says that things went a little differently than normal for the defending champs.

"The Thunder went on a 17-2 run, including a possession that exemplified the Lakers' poor play: Ron Artest airballed a three-pointer, Bryant grabbed the rebound and then airballed another trey," wrote Medina. "They again had no answer for Russell Westbrook's speed (26 points, seven assists and six rebounds). Artest normally forces Thunder forward Kevin Durant into a poor shooting clip to get his points, but his 31 points came on 11-of-15 shooting. And even though Thunder center Kendrick Perkins scored only two points, his presence has sharpened Oklahoma City's toughness, particularly in the paint."

The Thunder are vastly improving, but they are still extremely young. They can certainly get past the Nuggets in the first round, even if it takes them six or seven games. But winning a second round matchup without home court advantage will be awfully difficult. The bench has played well at times, but it is always harder to count on as much from your reserves on the road than it is at home.

That could lead to a second round exit for the Thunder, but anything can happen.

For more on Oklahoma City and a possible showdown with Los Angeles once again in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, make sure to check out Bleacher Report Thunder Featured Columnist Nicholas Gross, who previews the LA Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: 10 reasons Why OKC Will Take Their Throne.

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