Thunder look to keep from being wannabes in the West

The common refrain after Oklahoma City lost to Dallas: Give the young squad some time, and it will make it to its share of championship series. But other teams have been in their position.

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Stunned at the end of the playoff series with Dallas, Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City hope to be back, but will they?

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After Oklahoma City's young roster choked away leads in Game 4 and Game 5 of the NBA's Western Conference finals to let veteran Dallas advance, a common refrain was this: Give the young Thunder squad some time, and it will make it to its share of championship series.

But since 1999, six other teams from the West made it that far, but none followed up with a trip to the finals. All of them ran into the Lakers, Spurs or Mavericks, the only teams to represent the conference in the finals in the past 13 seasons. While all three of those teams are aging, which could make it easier for a new team like OKC to rule the West in the future, one shouldn't make assumptions. Here is a quick look at the six teams whose example the Thunder will hope to avoid.

• Portland (1999, 2000): The Trail Blazers led the Lakers (in L.A.) by 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7 in 2000 before an epic collapse. They haven't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since.

• Sacramento (2002): The Kings had the NBA's best regular-season record. Their three top scorers were Peja Stojavokic (24), Chris Webber (28) and Mike Bibby (23). But the Kings, who led the Lakers 3-2 in their series, lost 106-102 in Game 6 in L.A. (a game that referee Tim Donaghy would later allege was fixed) and fell in OT at home in Game 7. They never made it past the conference semifinals after that.

• Minnesota (2004): MV3 (Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell) carried the Wolves to the best record in the West and a showdown with the Lakers in the conference finals. But Cassell's injury derailed that series, and the rest is history. The Wolves haven't even been back to the playoffs.

• Phoenix (2005, 2006, 2010): The run-and-gun Suns seemed destined to break through. Steve Nash, then 30, was the only key player over 26 on a 2005 squad that went an NBA-best 62-20 but lost in five meek games to the Spurs in the conference finals. Even though the Suns made two more trips to the West finals, they never had the right mix to get over the hump.

• Utah (2007): Another team with a young nucleus -- Deron Williams (22), Mehmet Okur (27) and Carlos Boozer (25) -- the Jazz benefited from No. 8-seed Golden State knocking off No. 1 Dallas in the conference quarterfinals, giving the Jazz an easier path into the conference finals. Utah was steamrolled there by the Spurs and hasn't been past the conference semis since.

• Denver (2009): After losing in the first round for five consecutive seasons, the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony appeared to break through in 2009 by reaching the conference finals and throwing a scare into the Lakers before losing in six games. Since then, though, the Nuggets haven't won another playoff series and Anthony was traded away.

MICHAEL RAND

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