The Western conference has been decided between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs in the last three years, meeting twice in the conference finals. Russell Westbrook will be playing once again without Kevin Durant, while the defending NBA champions have the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker taking care of business without Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs were on a four game losing streak before a very impressive 125-118 win over the Clippers that brightened up the mood as all the key players came back from a forced rest, as Gregg Popovich conceded another loss just in order to reboot and restart with healthy and less tired players. Tony Parker, after missing five consecutive games, scored 26 points in 34 minutes, although Popovich would have liked to see him play a little bit less. He was initially expected to miss that game.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, 13-16 to start the season and out of the playoff picture, don’t have the luxury of resting players. Russell Westbrook is a one man wrecking crew, both to other teams and to his own, especially when Kevin Durant is out, meaning there’s no choice for Scott Brooks but to roll with the punches and home that his interesting yet selfish expirement brings up good results from time to time while Durant doesn’t take too long to come back.
Westbrook is averaging 28.2 points per game in 31.7 minutes a night. He has been erratic in his efficiency from the field, but overall he’s shooting 46.3% from the field and usually doing a lot more good than harm to the Thunder. Either way, it’s not like they have a choice. The combination of Anthony Morrow, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson isn’t going to bring them closer to the playoffs, and yet Westbrook can do with a little bit of sharing the ball sometimes.
And that’s been the problem, offense, for the Thunder, averaging only 100.8 points per 100 possessions this season. They have a net rating of just 0.6 points per 100 possessions while the Spurs, a little bit below their usual flow of offense because of Leonard missing seven games so far (3-4 without him, 15-7 with him), averaging 105.7 points per 100 possessions with a +5.7 net rating.
This is the first meeting between the two teams this season. They met in the conference finals last year. The Spurs took a 2-0 lead while Serge Ibaka was out, but his return sparked a two-win streak for the Thunder, threatening to do what they did in 2012, coming back from a 0-2 hole to win four straight. However, last year’s Spurs, as they showed against the Heat, were a very special team, and won games five and six convincingly for the most part.