SAN ANTONIO SPURS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the victims of championship teams since they arrived on the playoff scene two years ago. As an eight seed in the western conference, they fell to the top seeded Lakers in 2010. LA went on to win the NBA Finals that year. But what the world learned from that series was the limitless future of the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both averaging over 20 points a game and young players like Jeff Green and James Harden still in fruition. Last season, out goes Jeff Green and in comes the veteran enforcer Kendrick Perkins. Improving to the 4 seed, OKC went on to the Western Conference Finals and lost to Dallas in five games. Dallas won the NBA Finals last year. Oklahoma City is more than prepared for this moment, largely because of the influential improvement of James Harden. His playoff average has gone from 7 to 17 points per game in two seasons. The loss of Jeff Green really brought Harden to the forefront of OKC's offensive attack. He is the undisputed third option for their team, and as the sixth man, possibly the most important. I have no doubt in my mind that Oklahoma City is capable of winning an NBA title this year. In fact, they were my pick to come out of the West at the start of the season. But based on what we've all seen thus far, its close to impossible to make an argument against the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs are 33-5 since March 2. They haven't lost a single game in the playoffs so far. There is no argument that they are the best team in basketball, let alone the hottest team. Though only halfway through the postseason, Scoop Jackson from ESPN has used the word 'perfect' to describe the make-up of this Spurs team. Jackson thinks the sports world should recognize that, "we haven't seen something like this in a long time." Clearly this is a premature assertion, but I can't say I don't disagree with him. What San Antonio has done is working, simply put, and the Parker/Ginobili/Duncan dynasty is seemingly reborn. But still, as I wrote before in the Spurs' match up with the Clippers, the real story in San Antonio is the production of nearly their entire roster. Gregg Popovich isn't just getting consistent play from his big three, but steady contributions from young players like Danny Green (10 ppg), Kawhi Leonard (8.5 ppg), Gary Neal (8 ppg), and a physical Tiago Splitter (7 ppg) inside. Popovich is also getting production from veterans Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, just playing their roles in a potential championship effort. All of the players I just named are contributing while averaging under 25 minutes per game in the playoffs. Together, these players have combined to average 102 points per game this postseason.
Things to watch for:
- Sixth man battle of James Harden and Ginobili; the more effective of the two could likely be on the winning team.
- Tempo; The Spurs can play fast and execute in the half court while OKC prefers to play faster. Westbrook has a tendency of rushing half court offense and taking quick shots.
- Post play; Playoff basketball always slows down, Tim Duncan will have to deal with Perkins' physicality and Ibaka's shot blocking. Spurs must be able to score inside.
Make no mistake, if anyone can beat San Antonio, its Oklahoma City. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds, but I'm afraid the Thunder are about to be the victim to a championship team for the third straight season. My pick; San Antonio in 7.