The San Antonio Spurs (57-21) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (57-21) seem to be on a collision course. This year’s Western Conference Finals would be the setting for their inevitable confrontation.
Both teams are in the playoffs as both are tied for the best record in the West. This battle of the old guard versus the new has played out through the season. Both finished with two victories apiece against each other and have won their home games against the other. However, the Thunder have the psychological edge after they eliminated the Spurs last season in a six-game series, sweeping the final four games. The Spurs should want revenge for last year’s failure. But the Thunder know they can beat the Spurs in the playoffs. That advantage can play a factor in their possible matchup.
Despite their confidence, the Thunder need their combo of stars to step up against the Spurs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been held in check against San Antonio until recently. Durant averaged 23.2 points per game against the Spurs this season, roughly five points below his 28.4-point average. Westbrook fares no differently. He averaged 23 points against the Spurs, slightly below his total average of 23.4 points per game. If both can keep their pace against the Spurs, the Thunder can rally behind their star players.
The Thunder’s bench poses another problem for the Spurs. They still have a blend of youth in Kevin Martin and veterans players such as Kendrick Perkins. Martin is a pure shooter, while Perkins has won a title before with the Boston Celtics. Even Thabo Sefolosha provides depth as his shooting game has improved with his defensive game.
On the flip side, you cannot count out the San Antonio Spurs.
Their age and injuries make them susceptible for an exit. Tony Parker missed the series finale on April 5 to a sprained ankle. They need him healthy, as he scores 20.6 a game and records 7.5 assists per game. That poses a problem as Parker missed a crucial game with the Denver Nuggets April 10.
The same goes for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Both also missed games due to injuries, but are still invaluable to the Spurs’ lineup. Duncan averages 17.7 points and ten rebounds a game. Ginobili could be held out because of a hamstring injury. Will he be the same coming back in the postseason, if he comes back?
Their key to victory could rely on their young duo of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Green’s defense is as sturdy as his offense as he gets tough tasks in trying to shut down the NBA’s best players. He’ll likely have to guard Westbrook, which is no easy task.
Leonard will have the task of guarding Durant. Even though it will be difficult, Leonard’s 6’6” frame and speed should be enough to handle Durant. These two arose for the Spurs and helped them get this far. They’ll need to step up again amongst their veteran teammates.
The Spurs and Thunder would be an electric series if they meet at the Western Conference. They’ll have to pass tough teams in the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets. If the current standings hold, the Spurs would take on the Utah Jazz and the Thunder would face the Houston Rockets. They should be able to handle each.
The key is home court advantage. The Spurs are 34-5 at home, while the Thunder are 33-6. Oklahoma City is 24-15 on the road, San Antonio is 23-16; something’s got to give.
If they do face each other, whoever has the home turf will win in seven. If the Spurs hold their ground and clinch the best record in the West, they will beat the Thunder if they meet. If they lose their ground, expect the Thunder to make a second consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.