Western Conference Finals Preview

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:

Westbrook

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.

Featured image credit: Mark D. Smith- USA Today Sports

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What the hell happened yesterday?

Yesterday’s Mother’s Day NBA schedule featured two games that were each wild in their own way, and kind of left me scratching my head as to how the hell they ended how they ended.

The first game happened out west at the Staples Center, with the Clippers pulling off a stunning upset over the Thunder, winning 101-99. That was the kind of game that can turn a series around. There is a world of difference between being down 3-1 and being tied at 2-2, and the Clippers are now right back in it. This despite all the noise coming from their lunatic soon-to-be former owner. The Clippers trailed by as much as 16 with 9 minutes to go, and trailed by 12 with under 8 to go before the Clippers began their run. It started with Chris Paul’s personal 6-0 run, as he continued to show anyone crazy enough to doubt him that he is still the league’s best point guard. From there the Thunder struggled to score for the most part, with Chris Paul amazingly guarding Kevin Durant, forcing him into tough isolation possessions. Blake Griffin’s three point play with 1:50 remaining was one of the two biggest plays of the game for me, as it tied the game, along with Jamal Crawford’s clutch 3 (what else is new) with 1:23 to go. Darren Collison was also terrific in the fourth, scoring 12 points and using his speed in the open court. The Thunder don’t seem to have much of a plan in terms of late game execution on offense, so the crunch time edge will continue to go to the Clippers with Chris Paul’s ability to create off the dribble. Check out this gif of CP3 and DeAndre Jordan connecting on a nice alley oop:

The second game of the day was even weirder to me. The Wizards dropped a crucial game 4 to Indiana 95-92, now heading back to Indy down 3-1. This was a golden opportunity for the Wizards to get right back into this series, but they let it slip away. The opening quarter ended with the Pacers up 27-26, with the game staying mostly in the half court, which favors the Pacers dramatically. It wasn’t until the Wizards’ old guys checked in that Washington went on their run. The AARP club of Andre Miller, Drew Gooden, and Al Harrington played terrific all night, and looked like they could run away with it after outscoring Indiana 29-11 in the second quarter. But Paul George was the difference as he played his best game so far this postseason, with 39 points and 12 rebounds on 7-10 shooting from the 3 point line. Something is just plain wrong with Roy Hibbert, as he has trouble putting up consecutive quality quarters and repeatedly got blocked in the pain by smaller defenders. Also Lance Stephenson is one of the most erratic players I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t want him within a mile of my team, especially after he nearly blew the game with a late, bone headed turnover. Watching this game, you could see Indiana hanging around but all of a sudden they had a lead and you weren’t quite sure how they got there. I’m still far from convinced by this Pacers team, but once again they got it together just enough to survive and move closer to the Easter Conference Finals. John Wall’s awesome, buzzer beating layup to end the first half here for your viewing pleasure:

Both games yesterday were entertaining and sort of befuddling. The Thunder seemed to lose any semblance of a plan in the fourth quarter, and the Wizards managed to squander a vital game on their home court. Both series seem to be heading in different directions, with the Pacers likely to close things out in 5 (though I wouldn’t bet anything on it), and the series out west seems destined to be a 7 game classic. What do you think?

Featured Image Photo Credit: http://galleries.nba.com/gallery/Gamer_Action%3A_May_11

Who Will Survive the West? OKC vs. MEM

The next series to examine the the Thunder vs. Grizzlies. This is a good one as the Thunder are known for their athleticism, speed, and scoring while the Grizz are known for punishing opponents down low and defending teams to death. The Thunder should win this one, but it won’t be easy.  So far they have split the first two games of the series, after the Grizzlies stole the first game in OKC.

The key for the Grizzlies is pretty simple, win the battle down-low, like always. Featuring two top big men who complement each other perfectly, the Grizzlies should give the Thunder nightmares in the paint. After early season knee problems, former DPOY Marc Gasol is rounding into form averaging 16 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 5.5 apg so far in the series. By himself he’s a problem. Zbo (Zach Randolph) is a bigger one, averaging 23/8.5/2.5 and forever agitating fellow tough guy Kendrick Perkins. Mike Conley has become a terrific point guard as well, who averaged 17 and 6 this season. The problem for Memphis is that points are just too hard to come by for this team. The Grizzlies finished dead last in the NBA in made 3 pointers/game this season, and fourth to last in scoring. If you’re relying on Mike Miller at this stage of his career, or Quincy Pondexter, to come in games and make enough threes to keep pace with the Thunder, you probably won’t win the series.

The Thunder on the other hand, finished 5th in the NBA in scoring. There’s no need to discuss their scorers in too much depth, because we all know Kevin Durant is the greatest scorer the league has seen in some time and Russell Westbrook when healthy (I’ll get to that) is as explosive as they come. (I attached a link for a video of Durant below that should do all the talking). I was really impressed with the growth of some of the Thunder’s young players this year, specifically Reggie Jackson. The young point guard averaged 13 and 4, and handled the increased workload impressively when Westbrook missed time. Westbrook’s recent injury history is troubling for sure, and the Thunder will need him to be at 100% relentlessly attacking defenses like only he can if they plan to win a title. For now, the Thunder’s explosive scoring should be too much for the Grizzlies to handle.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNaK0719KQo