|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|April 3rd, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Turner Network Television (TNT)|
|Radio: WWLS 98.1FM OKC, WOAI 1200AM/KCOR 135|
|Previous Matchups: Nov 27 (W, 94-88), Dec 21 (W, 113-100), Jan 22 (W, 111-105)|
|Tony Parker||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Danny Green||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Kawhi Leonard||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Tim Duncan||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Tiago Splitter||C||Steven Adams|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|94.9 (11th)||Pace||95.6 (9th)|
|110.7 (5th)||ORtg||110.2 (7th)|
|101.9 (3rd)||DRtg||103.2 (5th)|
Well, it's time for our comparatively humble contender to take on the lurking beast in the room. The Oklahoma City Thunder, riding on a nice two-game win streak, gets to go in and try to be the team that knocks off the juggernaut that has been the mid-February-to-present San Antonio Spurs who've now won 19 games in a row. This battle between the West's two best teams would have huge ramifications in the standings and in momentum as well.
Though the Spurs have won 19 straight (there's always a 'though' or a 'but'!), they'll be a night removed from a matchup against the Golden State Warriors when they play the Thunder, who have rested since Sunday's matchup against the Utah Jazz. Probably even more encouraging is the fact that, for all of their wins, the Spurs haven't been able to beat the Thunder yet this season. The Thunder have a shot to complete a rare four-game season series sweep against the Spurs.
That being said, the Spurs have still won 19 straight. That's a franchise record, and they're coming off blowout wins against the Golden State Warriors and the Indiana Pacers in their last two games. You just can't ever bet against this team. Pick any year since the turn of the millenium, and you've picked a year where the Spurs are among the league's best teams. Part of that is Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili providing a foundational support that has held steady for over a decade now, and part of that is Gregg Popovich being the Michael Jordan of coaching. That core was starting to get old a long time ago, but playing in Pop's system which they've been familiar with since their rookie years and is so masterfully designed, they've remained nearly All-Star level players.
Here's the scary part though: that core isn't even carrying the team anymore. To win in the NBA, history has shown you normally need a superstar or two to lead the way. The Spurs' core has name value and they're (mostly?) still in top-30/40 territory. But none of those guys are averaging more than Parker's team-high 30.1 minutes per game, and instead of carrying their team, they simply execute Pop's team-wide scheme with a bit more talent and understanding than their teammates around them. Don't underestimate the rest of the team, because they do just fine.
The long-armed Kawhi Leonard is giving even LeBron James fits, and he'll be as annoying a defender as Kevin Durant will face this season because of his ability to match Durant's size with wingspan. Marco Belinelli is one of the leading candidates for Most Improved Player this season, winning the NBA's Three-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend and currently seventh in three-point percentage with a 45.1% mark from behind the line. Danny Green hasn't kept his form from last season's Finals (which was pretty much impossible to start with), but he's still shooting 41.8% from three. Tiago Splitter has anchored the middle next to Duncan, Boris Diaw has been rolling along, and Patty Mills has been borderline amazing in a 18.4-minute per game role. We can go on and on with this team.
Right now on this win streak, the Spurs are playing with mechanical efficiency on both ends for practically 48 minutes every game without showing much sign of faltering. Their offense has long revolved around clever motion and precise ball movement, and they've been one of the league's hardest to crack on defense too with intelligent player-crowding and a bang-up job of protecting the rim from all attackers done by Duncan and Splitter. The gears keep turning, and you wonder what force it will take to stop them.
Of course, there's the Oklahoma City Thunder. You could poke a number of holes in this team's performance of late, including defensive and reserve issues highlighted by the injuries to Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. They're still the Oklahoma City Thunder, and for all of their problems, they can be an overwhelmingly talented opponent. If Scott Brooks sits Russell Westbrook out against the Spurs or Reggie Jackson can't go, the odds might look a bit difficult against such a team so fearsome right now.
You can bet the Thunder are going into this game expecting to win, however. It's not quite a 19-game streak, but they've blown out their last two opponents (admittedly, "only" the Jazz and the Kings). They've also won six of their last seven games and eight of their last ten. For me, the greatest source of confidence is that the Spurs haven't yet been able to top the Thunder. If Kevin Durant can be Kevin Durant, this team has its own foundational support that the Spurs have in their system. The problem is to get enough out of the defense and the reserves, because topping the Spurs is difficult to do with glaring flaws in the way. Minimize those (and in fact, defense and reserves powered a Thunder win over the Spurs earlier this season), and the Thunder could be well on their way to halting the Spurs.
Prediction: San Antonio Spurs 105, Oklahoma City Thunder 101 - SORRY. I CAN'T BET AGAINST THE SPURS. IT'S TOO HARD.