INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The way the Cavaliers have been playing basketball lately, they will have to come into Oklahoma City today knowing one thing: The Thunder are no longer a pushover in the NBA.
Having won their fourth consecutive game Friday night, a season high for the team, the Thunder owns a winning record at 12-9 and continue to improve.
"They have a very, very good young group of players that love to play the game of basketball," LeBron James said. "When you have a group of guys that love to play the game of basketball, they're going to compete."
One of the key reasons why: Kevin Durant, a former No. 1 draft choice out of the University of Texas. Durant is fulfilling the potential he showed coming out of college. He's scored 25 or more points in the past six games, including 32 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
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But by no means is this the Kevin Durant show. He has plenty of help, including forward Jeff Green, who averages 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Russell Westbrook, who makes all of this flow from the point guard position, is averaging 16.4 points and 6.9 assists per game. And rookie James Harden brings 9.5 points and 3.3 rebounds from the bench.
James recognizes the challenge that's in front of the Cavs, who are on a two-game losing streak on the road after falling to Western Conference teams — the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets — for the first time in those games.
"We are looking forward to the challenge," he said. "It's going to be a good test for us against a young, explosive team in their home building, and we have to come out with the same fire we did in the second half (Friday)."
If coach Mike Brown had his way, the Cavs would come with that fire each and every game, and he challenged his team to do just that after Friday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
"That will we showed in the second half is who we want to become — simple as that," he said.
The work to establish that begins Sunday night against a team quickly rising in the league.
Impressed by Wall — Dick Vitale anointed James years ago when he called one of St. Vincent-St. Mary's games for ESPN2.
Vitale, a fixture in college basketball for years, referred to James as "the truth." On Friday, James passed on the favor by saying that the University of Kentucky's John Wall has that type of potential.
Wall, a true freshman for John Calipari's Wildcats, averages 19 points and seven assists per game and has been the talk of college basketball since the season started.
"He'll be the No. 1 pick in the draft. That says enough," James said.
James likened Wall to Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls point guard who won last season's Rookie of the Year Award, but said Rose was a bit stronger physically. Still, what Wall lacks in that area, he makes up for in his ability to handle the ball.
James said he knew that Wall would make an impact after he saw him in his Akron basketball camps.
"He was the No. 1 player when he was a junior or senior and you can tell he was very, very good," James said.
As has been his custom, James has reached out to Wall and maintains a friendship with him and his family.