Updated: November 7, 2012, 7:22 AM ET

1. Thunder Finally Find Themselves

By Royce Young

In their first three games, the Thunder were the team playing without James Harden. They were trying to find a new voice, trying to fit in a new piece and trying to regroup after having their tight-knit world rocked.

But Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, they finally started playing like the team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka -- the team that still has top-tier talent and can completely overwhelm an inferior opponent. They started playing like a team that is still very, very good.

The Raptors were the unfortunate group on the wrong end of an angry, frustrated Thunder team looking to prove something as OKC rolled up Toronto, 108-88. It wasn't that the Thunder made some significant statements that everything was going to be OK or that they were back. But with OKC entering the game with a 1-2 record and with critics ready to sound the alarm, it was less about winning and more about not losing.

"We don't change how we approach any game," Scott Brooks said. "We had a tough loss last game [against Atlanta]. But we're not a team that's going to put our heads down and run from what we need to work on.

"And if we have a good win, we're not going to all of sudden puff our chests out and say we're good now. We're a solid team. We play together, we play hard and we work on the things that we need to work on."

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got plenty of help from OKC's supporting cast Tuesday night.

Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka were solid but not spectacular, combining for 51 points, but the trio set the tone early on against the Raptors. In a 30-17 first-quarter blitzing, OKC's defense swarmed and Durant posterized rookie Jonas Valanciunas, allowing another sold-out home crowd to breathe easy.

"We started the game off with a lot of intensity, and that is what we need every game from here on out, to start off with a lot of energy," Durant said. "We fed off our crowd. Our bench was up and excited about every play. Guys were moving the basketball and just helping on defense."

It's easy to point at the absence of Harden as the culprit for OKC's early season struggles, but the reality is the two Thunder losses could've been taken straight from last season. Against the Spurs, it was one of those "full moons" when Westbrook transformed into a reckless point guard, forcing shots and wasting possessions. Against the Hawks, OKC lacked energy and played a soft defensive game.

The secret right now is that new guy, Kevin Martin, has replaced Harden's box score production, and then some. With another 15 points in 22 minutes against Toronto, Martin is averaging more than 19 points per game, which is about three more than Harden did last season as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year.

Stylistically, Martin doesn't provide the same things Harden did. The Thunder don't have a secondary ball handler to spell Westbrook when he goes haywire.

Also, the Thunder don't have another creator on the floor with Westbrook and Durant. It's meant that the Thunder's super-duo has taken on more responsibility as distributors, specifically Durant, who is averaging a career high in assists and a career low in shot attempts per game.

But that's all part of sorting out the shakeup. There's a lot that is similar about this Thunder team, but the differences that remain require some work.

Even with feeling their way through the changes, the Harden trade probably hasn't contributed to any specific loss as of yet. It's easy to assume having Harden would've meant a 4-0 start, but the issue could be deeper.

Maybe the biggest thing so far for the Thunder has been a post-Finals hangover. As a young team coming off the high of their careers just a few months ago, these November games feel a long way away from June.

"There's no question that when you get to the NBA Finals, you're at the highest level," Brooks said. "But the process to get back has to start at the beginning of the season.

"And our guys have done a good job of understanding that process of work every day. There's no guarantee that June excitement will come back. We have to work for it, and there are a lot of steps ahead."

Those steps include forgetting about that guy with the beard and focusing on what's still there: a whole lot of talent and a very, very good team.

Dimes past: Oct. 30 | 31 | Nov. 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 5

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