2013-2014 Game 43 Preview: Thunder Go for West Lead at Spurs

The lighting on Tim Duncan is perfect in this photo. - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at why the Spurs can't beat elite teams, and whether they have a shot at doing so tonight.

2013-2014 NBA Season
Thunder_medium
@
Spurs_medium
32-10
Won 4

31-9
Won 1
January 22nd, 2014
The American Telephone and Telegraph Center, San Antonio, Texas
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, KENS San Antonio 5
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WOAI 1200 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Matt Bonner (Probable), Tony Parker (Probable), Danny Green (Out), Tiago Splitter (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 27th, Dec 22nd (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Tony Parker
Thabo Sefolosha SG Marco Bellinelli
Kevin Durant SF Kawhi Leonard
Serge Ibaka PF Tim Duncan
Kendrick Perkins C Boris Diaw
2013/14 Advanced Stats
98.7 (6th) Pace 96.8 (15th)
106.5 (7th) ORtg 108.2 (3rd)
98.5 (3rd) DRtg 99.2 (4th)

If there was ever a team that carried a serious "built for the regular season" label, San Antonio would be it. Despite their position atop the Western Conference, their record appears to be toothless. If you need evidence, look no further than their losses, which have included two to the Thunder, two to Houston, two to Portland, one to Indiana, one to the Clippers, and one to the Knicks. In fact, the Spurs record against the NBA's top 7 teams is 1-8, with their sole victory coming against the Clippers.

Why do the Spurs fail on such a large stage, especially after nearly winning the title last season? Well, there's a variety of factors in play. One is that the team has had to deal with a variety of minor injuries to their players, forcing them to tax their older players more than they'd like. (Only two Spurs players have appeared in every single game.) Another is that the Spurs simply aren't very good at rebounding. They've lost the battle of the boards in every single one of their defeats this season. Tim Duncan is a large power forward, but beyond him, the Spurs have really gotten lean. Diaw and Ayres are undersized at center, while Matt Bonner is a total lightweight. This is to say nothing of the Spurs interior defense, which is superb.

Another problem the Spurs have is a real lack of identity. Over the past couple of years, the Spurs had evolved into a team that destroyed you with a fast and efficient offense while sporting a defense that had no major weaknesses. But with the NBA's pace at its' highest point since 1994, the Spurs are suddenly in the middle of the pack. This takes away the Spurs capability to put the majority of opposing teams in an unnatural situation by playing the game faster. Thus, most opposing teams are able to play within their comfort zone against the Spurs, so it's natural that the top-heavy elite teams would give the Spurs most trouble.

Anyway, let's get to the question of the hour. Do the Spurs have what it takes to beat OKC tonight? Obviously, anything's possible with the Thunder playing the second night of a back-to-back. But I'm going to go on record saying that it's not likely. The Spurs have succeeded in shutting down Durant and Westbrook on separate occasions this season, yet still haven't been able to overcome the contributions of OKC's role players.

Of course, critics will point out that the key difference in tonight's game is the absence of Russell Westbrook. Part of the reason for the Thunder's domination of the previous two games was Reggie Jackson's ability to tear through Patty Mills and the Spurs' second unit. But a Jackson on Parker matchup doesn't seem too incredibly daunting, considering that Parker is coming off of injury, Westbrook has seen significant success there in the past, and that Jackson will get significant time with the bench.

You've also got to consider that Kevin Durant has basically carried the Thunder through these past four wins. He's an automatic basketball machine that can't be stopped, and unless the Spurs can lull him into taking a ton of threes, I just don't see any reason for him to fail. And even if he does fail, as I mentioned above, the Thunder's role players generally do well against the Spurs and can make up for a superstar's partial absence.

I will say this, though. If the Spurs want to win tonight, it all starts with protecting the rim and refusing to foul. This is the one area where they hold significant sway over the Thunder. OKC is heavily reliant on getting to the line when things get tough for their offense, and they are prone to settle for bad jumpers when things don't open up near the rim. It won't be possible for the entire game, but if the Spurs can force the Thunder into a bad quarter, then things start to get interesting. At that point, the Spurs would be hoping for a good game from Timmy D, a semi-shut down of KD and a good amount of points off turnovers.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 106, San Antonio Spurs 96.

What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!

Looking for some live analysis or silly commentary during the game? Then why not give @WTLC a follow on Twitter?

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