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Thunder vs. Spurs: Best of the West Are Set to Tango (2011-2012 Game 44 Preview)

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Gamethread Tonight, be there!

Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (33-10) at San Antonio Spurs (28-13)

Time: 8:30 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, KMYS CW 35

Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), WOAI 1200 AM

Enemy Blog(s): Pounding the Rock, 48 Minutes of Hell

Previous Meeting(s): Jan. 8, Feb. 4th (Season Series Tied 1-1)

If the Thunder lose this game, they'll find themselves in serious danger of losing the top seed in the Western Conference.

If that's not enough reason to watch, I don't know what is. I know, our encounters with the Spurs haven't exactly been exciting. Our first test in January resulted in a landslide victory by the time the third quarter had ended. And the second time we played the Spurs, the exact same thing happened, except this time they were on the high side.

But there were still interesting moments in both games. The one thing that sticks out to me is Tony Parker's 42 point performance in the Spurs victory. It wasn't particularly the fault of any Thunder defender, since most of his plays were just inhuman. It seemed like he could find the exact spot on the floor where his shots wouldn't be challenges on every single possession. I will say that Tony Parker is one of the quickest players in the league, and while Russell Westbrook is strong and fast, he doesn't have the ability to change direction or accelerate as rapidly as Tony Parker can. This is going to lead to some opportunities for the Spurs, to say the least.

And if the previous meetings tell us anything, it's that the third quarter is extremely important. Both of these teams are unwilling to commit too much manpower or chancy plays to putting the other team away in the first half, but if one sees an opening during the second half, they'll try to press. And that's usually where things start falling apart for the other team.

If our third quarter run during our January win is any indication, the main advantages we have over the Spurs are our ability to get out in transition, and our ability to get fouled. Sefolosha should be particularly helpful here, because he's extremely smart when making passes running down the floor, and he stays with his assignment on defense until they walk right into Perkins or Ibaka.

Below: How the Other Third Quarter Went, The Jefferson-Jackson Trade And How It Affects Tonight, How the Game Will Go, Prediction!

The Spurs third quarter run during their February win wasn't as hard and fast, but it did happen. The Thunder scored on maybe every other possession, but they weren't able to get any consistency because they tried too hard for difficult plays, and ended up making stupid mistakes. Something like a Westbrook reverse layup in traffic, a lob pass to Durant under the basket, or a short Durant jumper. Meanwhile, Tony Parker was continuing to embarrass the Thunder defense, and because the Thunder were so distracted with guarding him, they'd often leave other Spurs open for easy jump shots.

Another factor tonight will be the recent departure of Richard Jefferson, who was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Stephen Jackson (who, not 24 hours before, was traded to the Warriors from the Bucks). Jackson won't be playing for the Spurs until Wednesday, so that means Danny Green or Gary Neal will be starting at Shooting Guard. The Spurs will miss the defensive presence of Jefferson tonight for sure, but given that the Thunder have nobody to exploit his absence, I'm not reading too much into it. Unless Sefolosha decides to start driving the ball.

It's hard to say which Thunder team will show up tonight. The one that's seamless in transition, knows how to get to the line, and can force Spurs players into tight spots, or the one that forces bad plays, lets Tony Parker run wild, and makes stupid mistakes. My prediction is that the Thunder end up somewhere in the middle, and we finally get the Spurs-Thunder thriller that we've all been waiting for.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, San Antonio Spurs 100