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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Should Thunder, Mavs be division rivals?

By Jeff Caplan

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After the Dallas Mavericks slipped past the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, Jason Terry noted that he's excited to play the Oklahoma City Thunder because some of the OKC players have talked up this matchup as something of a rivalry.

That's news to the Mavs, who've handled the Thunder rather handily, and before that the Seattle SuperSonics, over the past decade. Led by breath-of-fresh-air superstar Kevin Durant, the up-and-coming Thunder did split the season series last season, 2-2, and the young squad seemed to enjoy running up and down the floor against the veteran Mavericks.

But a rivalry?

"Dallas, they’re so close [geographically], that would be the logical choice," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "But, until you really face them and have a lot of heartbreak against them it’s hard to say that there’s a rivalry."

The Thunder have a rivalry problem. For one, the team moved from Seattle three years ago, but has remained in the Northwest Division with Portland, Utah, Denver and Minnesota. Fine cities, but not a lot in common there. Then there's the fact that the Seattle/OKC franchise has suffered for years until finally getting back into the playoffs last season.

So who is the Thunder's rival?

"I don’t think we have one really," Brooks said. "I think when you have a history with teams and playoff experiences and losses and victories you have that, and we haven’t had that opportunity to have year after year battles against anybody yet."

Fair enough. The Los Angeles Lakers then likely rank high on the rivalry scale for the Thunder after last season's riveting seven-game playoff series. Probably not so much for L.A.

Oklahoma City needs geographical rivalries and perhaps those are starting to form with the Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs now that the Thunder are competing at the upper level of the Western Conference.

But, what really ingrains rivalries is geographic ties within the division. Somtimes it's easy to forget that Memphisand not Oklahoma City resides in the Southwest Division. Picture a division with Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, with each assured of visiting the other teams' building twice every season.

"I just know when I played for the Rockets, I did not like the Mavericks and I did not like the Spurs,"  Brooks said. "But, I changed allegiance pretty quick when I got traded to the Mavericks; I hated the Rockets and I hated the Spurs."

This year, the Mavs and Thunder play just three times and they'll wrap up the season series on Jan. 6, three months before the end of the regular season. The Thunder will play at Dallas once this season, the same as every Eastern Conference team, depriving the area of seeing Durant, one of the great young stars in the league, despite him playing just 200 miles due north.

Recently, NBA commissioner David Stern broached contraction as an option as the league sifts through financial issues with a potential lockout coming. If not contraction, perhaps some financially strapped franchises will end up moving locations, which could lead to shuffling of the divisions or even conferences.

It should be a priority of the league to get the Oklahoma City Thunder out of the Northwest Division and into the Southwest Division where they belong.