The Western Conference Finals starts tonight, as the Spurs take on the Thunder in San Antonio. It’s not really surprising that either team is still playing, as they’ve pretty much been the top two teams out West all season. What should we expect from this match up?
To me the thing to watch is the injury factor, for both teams. Spurs point guard Tony Parker strained his hamstring in the second round against Portland, but he is expected to play tonight. Obviously the Spurs need him to be effective, as he’s unquestionably their most important player offensively. Fortunately the Spurs are deep and balanced, but Russell Westbrook is a nightmare to cover on a good day, now imagine doing so on a bad hamstring. For Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the post season, although the Spurs are skeptical. Without Ibaka, someone will have to step up for the Thunder as a third scoring option behind Westbrook and Durant, as well as help protect the rim. Ibaka helps draw opposing big men from the paint with his strong mid range game, and Kendrick Perkins ain’t scaring anybody from outside, so it could be troublesome for OKC to move Duncan and Tiago Splitter from where they’re comfortable.
Two years ago these teams matched up in the Conference Finals, and San Antonio won the first two games, extending their win streak to 20. Oklahoma City proceeded to win the next four games to advance to the Finals, losing to the eventual champion Heat. I don’t think either team will win 4 straight in this series, but I do expect Oklahoma City to win. I think it’s incredible what the Spurs have been able to do (I wrote about it here), but I think they’re running into a team that is younger, fresher, and perhaps feeling more pressure with their newly crowned MVP. I know it seems more logical that the Spurs would face more pressure, being that they are older and another year closer to the end of their run, but at this point they’re almost playing with house money. They shouldn’t be doing what they’ve been doing for so long, but OKC has two superstars entering their prime, with nothing to show for it yet. Can they get back to the finals, or continue to regret trading James Harden? We’ll see.
To be clear, I’m not picking OKC because of pressure, or anything like that, it’s only one factor. The Thunder offense, when clicking, is just too explosive for San Antonio. The Spurs do have excellent three point shooting on their side, however, and I do not like the way OKC executes late in games. I’m not one to jump on Westbrook like many members do, because I think OKC needs him to be his explosive, attacking self to be able to advance, but Durant needs to ball late in games. I expect one or two of Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, or Perry Jones to step up and make significant contributions in this series. Kawhi Leonard will certainly bother Durant defensively, but he hasn’t blossomed into the offense force expected of him yet, and there’s still this to worry about:
I’m picking Thunder in 6, but of course it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Spurs advanced. They are the Spurs, after all, and they just do not die.
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