|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|April 4th, 2013|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|8:30 PM Central Daylight Time|
|Turner Network Television|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), WOAI 1200 AM|
|Pounding The Rock, Project Spurs, 48 Minutes of Hell|
|Previous Meetings: Nov. 1st, Dec 17th, Mar 11th (Spurs Lead Season Series 2-1)|
|Injury Report: Tony Parker (Probable), Kawhi Leonard (Questionable), Manu Ginobili (Out)|
|Tony Parker||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Danny Green||SG||Thabo Sefolosha|
|Kawhi Leonard (Jackson?)||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Tim Duncan||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Boris Diaw||C||Kendrick Perkins|
We've waited for what seems like eons, and now the Thunder will finally get their shot. They're only one game behind the San Antonio Spurs, and a win here would finally put them in first place, sitting atop the Western Conference.
How important is a win here? It's really hard to say. We've seen a cold Thunder team be successful in the playoffs before. Last year, the Thunder didn't beat a playoff opponent for an entire month, basically tanking their way into the playoffs. But when the truly important games began, they opened the playoffs with a sweep of the Mavericks and a 5 game thrashing of the Lakers, eventually closing the season with an NBA Finals appearance.
Given the evidence, it seems silly for me to call this game important at all. After all, it's only the regular season. But I can't help feeling like the Thunder have something to prove tonight. If they don't win, they'll likely fall to the second seed in the West. That's not a terrible fate to have. What is troubling, though, is how the Thunder would likely be facing the Nuggets or Grizzlies in the second round, both teams who have given them mighty trouble this season.
Beyond this problem is the fact that the Thunder haven't been an exciting team since January. After a February collapse, the team has seen flashes of brilliance, but they haven't been able to put it together from night to night, and have had too many scares and close calls. The Thunder look vulnerable and flawed. Their bench can't keep it together. The're having trouble keeping guys off of the offensive glass. They can't guard against centers who can shoot, nor can they guard quick point guards. Threes are easy to get, because the Thunder gamble on pressure too much. A loss here would just reinforce the public perception behind one of those flaws, especially with Ginobili sitting out.
Anyway, let's move away from the general and straight into the practical. The Thunder are 1-2 against the Spurs this season, with every game sticking out in fans' minds. The first, our season opener, featured the Thunder and Spurs playing a tough defensive battle. The Thunder suffered with bad post defense and a high turnover ratio, but the game ultimately came down to one play, where Russell Westbrook totally missed his defensive assignment. This gave Tony Parker a wide open shot for the win. Game 2 was a Thunder blowout at home, where they forced the Spurs to foul and got solid production from both Ibaka and Martin. Game 3 was a Spurs win at their house, where they had a second quarter run that the Thunder were never able to recover from. Their bench had some serious defensive problems, and the game was over when it came down to crunch time.
Tonight, Manu Ginobili is a confirmed scratch, while Kawhi Leonard remains questionable with knee soreness. The funny thing is that the exact same two players were absent from the Thunder blowout at home this season, so this game could very well have the same result. Still, if watching the NBA for so many years has taught me anything, it's that you should never underestimate Popovich's Spurs. They'll most likely be looking to exploit the Thunder in the post tonight. Their main objective will be to get regular scoring for Duncan and Splitter while committing as few fouls on the Thunder as possible. As a result, we might see Hasheem Thabeet play a few token minutes tonight.
I'd expect the Westbrook-Parker battle to be as epic as ever, and how that one goes will be a nice general indicator as to how the game is going to go. Both players are the heart and soul of their respective teams, and both are capable of bad nights. Otherwise, I'd keep an eye on the post battle and on how well the Thunder bench can hold the tide.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, San Antonio Spurs 99.
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