Western Conference Final Preview
The San Antonio Spurs have swept through the playoffs to reach the Western Conference Finals. If a #1 seed can possibly play under the radar for an entire season, the Spurs have managed to pull this feat off. In defeating the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers in back to back series, the Spurs have added to a 10 game winning streak going into the playoffs, as they have pulled out 18 straight victories. The scary thing about the Spurs is it doesn’t appear as if they have even been challenged at this point. The Jazz and Clippers have honestly looked like D league teams when they have been on the court with the Spurs. That will change in this next series though.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a team that will absolutely challenge the Spurs. OKC swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round, quickly disposing of Dirk Nowitzki and company. They then went on and took out Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, beating the perennial winners in 5 games. The Lakers pushed the Thunder in most of the games, forcing the Thunder to play clutch, winning ball. The Thunder are easily the most exciting, young up and coming team in the NBA, as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the OKC squad are hungry to bring a winning tradition to Oklahoma City. The thought by many NBA experts is the NBA Champions will come out of the Western Conference, making this match-up a must see for all NBA fans.
Here is how I see the positional match-ups shaping up in this heavy weight battle:
Guards- Tony Parker and Danny Green make up the starting back court of the San Antonio Spurs. Parker is one of the best PG’s in the league for the past decade, proven by his 3 NBA Championships. He is as quick on the dribble as any player in the league, with the exception of one possibility. Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha are young, fast and dangerous on all parts of the floor. Westbrook is the one guard in the NBA who can possibly match Parker’s quickness off the dribble. However, I need to lean toward Tony Parker and Danny Green in this matchup, solely based on experience and Parker is a much better defender than Westbrook.
Center- The Center match-up features the Thunders Kendrick Perkins vs. the veteran, washed up Boris Diaw. In all honesty Diaw plays a slot filler role to Tiago Splitter off the bench. Perkins adds the type of tenacity that can make it hard for anyone to score inside the paint. Diaw does provide an added threat of a 3-pointer, but his consistency is nonexistent. Splitter on the other hand is more of an inside scorer with a smooth 12-15 foot jumper. Splitter will cause problems for the OKC bench, but if Perkins or Ibaka, who is actually a PF/C, are in the game then the Thunder will have the big man advantage.
Bench Play- Both teams sport great players off the bench. Oklahoma City is able to bring in veterans like Derek Fisher, with Championship experience and role players like Nick Collison who has been in the organization for longer than any current member. James Harden is by far their most explosive player off the bench, and the Thunder’s third leading scorer behind Westbrook and Durant. Like stated earlier Splitter provides the big man spark off the Spurs bench. Manu Ginobili, who was a starter just a couple of seasons ago before his injury, is a great scorer and provides Popovich the option of taking Parker and Duncan out without fear of a stagnant offense. Matt Bonner is an excellent role player off the bench, as he has a tendency to knock down an open three and plays solid defense. Veteran Stephen Jackson can be huge for the Spurs off the bench if he can keep his calm and not be the thug he once was. Gary Neal supplies the back court with an excellent offensive punch off the bench, which allows the Spurs offense to run as smoothly without the starters in. While Harden and the Thunder bench matches up favorably with most teams, San Antonio might be the only team who proves to be deeper.
Head Coach- Though Scott Brooks might be one of the best young coaches in the game, Greg Popovich is arguably the best in the past decade, outside of Phil Jackson. Popovich is the longest tenured coach with his respective team in the NBA, winning 4 championships. Brooks has taken a franchise that was a laughing-stock in the league a few years ago and has taken them to the Conference Championships. However, Popovich has been there before, knows how to coach in a big spot and will get the job done when the game is on the line.
The Thunder will push the Spurs to the brink in one of the most exciting matchups in recent memory, though ultimately I think San Antonio will prevail. OKC has the youth and offensive explosion, though with Tony Parker’s speed and Duncan’s experience, there is nothing the Thunder can do that will surprise the Spurs.
The Spurs win in 7.