Saturday, May 26, 2012

NBA Western Conference Finals Preview

     This year's NBA Playoffs have been full of excitement so far, and we're only halfway through! In the Eastern Conference, teams have been battle tested and every series has gone at least five games. In the Western Conference however, two teams have dominated and emerged victorious over the others in quick fashion. This matchup features two teams that are both capable of bringing home the trophy, but only one will come out on top and earn a spot in the NBA Finals. So let's examine the series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals...

#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #2 Oklahoma City Thunder

Overview: This series features arguably the two hottest teams in the NBA right now. The Spurs come roaring in, sweeping their first two opponents and also on an 18-game win streak. The Thunder cruise in after sweeping last year's champion Dallas Mavericks and taking down Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. Both teams will be well-rested for Game 1, so health should not be an issue for either the Thunder or the Spurs. Both teams are built around a "Big 3," have a lot of depth, and are heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals. This matchup has the potential to be one of the most exciting and thrilling faceoffs in the history of the NBA Playoffs. I honestly believe whoever wins this series will win the championship this year, but only time will tell.

Oklahoma City's advantage: Kevin Durant. The Spurs are deep, but I don't know if anybody can shut down Durant. He had a bunch of great games against the Lakers last round, and I expect him to do the same this time around. Durant is what Stephen A. Smith would call "a baller," because he's lengthy, fast, can attack the basket, and also shoot from the perimeter. Kevin Durant was a runner up for MVP this year, and although Spurs guard Tony Parker was a dark horse for the MVP, I don't believe any player on the Spurs comes close to having as much individual skill as Durant.
Kevin Durant is primed to have the series of his young career, but
will he be able to propel the Thunder to earn a trip to the NBA Finals?

San Antonio's advantage: The ability to spread the ball around. Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook are about even when it comes to skills, but if there's one part of the game in which Parker is better than Westbrook, it is their effectiveness when they move the ball around. Parker is an established veteran and is a better creator and passer than Westbrook. Gregg Popovich has also convinced his team that if they play as a team and work for each other, they will be this year's NBA champions. His team rarely sets isolation plays, and instead they play an inside-out post game where they dump it in to players who can create down low like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, and then they pass it out to the open shooter on the wing or in the corner.

Leonard (right) has thrived under the mentoring of his coach,
Gregg Popovich (left). Leonard's gritty defense and newfound
ability to shoot treys made him an All-Rookie first teamer.
X-Factor: Kawhi Leonard. When he got drafted in the first round out of San Diego State, some analysts felt that he would never develop into an NBA player. Well, they were wrong. He isn't the flashy scorer that will put up 20 points every night, and he rebounds a modest five boards per game for his position. Leonard, however, is consistent, and that is why he starts at the small forward under Gregg Popovich every night. He faced growing pains like any other rookie earlier in the season, but since the departure of Richard Jefferson, Leonard has gotten more playing time and has made the most of it. In the playoffs, he's averaging 8.5 points per game, five rebounds, leading his team in steals with 1.5 per contest, and is shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point land. In college, he wasn't much of a shooter and was raw offensively. Now, in the Spurs' system, he has become a legitimate danger out on the wing or in the corner which forces opposing players to gamble on whether to double up on Parker or Duncan and leave Leonard open, because they know he'll hit it almost every time if left free. Leonard also has the task of keeping Thunder superstar Kevin Durant in check. Leonard is a great defender, and his enormous hands can provide him an advantage when it comes to taking the ball away. Durant is a little bit taller, but Leonard has the athleticism to compete with him. It will be interesting to see them go up against each other starting tomorrow.

Prediction: Spurs over Thunder, 4-3.

     Thanks for reading! My next entry will be about the Eastern Conference Finals, as we await to see who the Miami Heat will face. In Game 7, will the veteran Boston Celtics led by its own "Big 3" consisting of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen make a push for one last run, or will the young, suprising Philadelphia 76ers pull off a second consecutive upset? Stay tuned!


  1. Great review. Thunder will have a hard time guarding Duncan one-on-one in the paint and Westbrook will need to "learn" how to guard the pick and roll against Parker. I think the X-Factor is more on Ginobili because he has been struggling on shooting and the Spurs need better performance from him in order to succeed.

    1. Thanks! And I agree, Perkins will be fully healthy but is not as mobile as Duncan. Ibaka is just as mobile as Duncan but not as tough, so it's going to be interesting to see who they put on him. And I could agree with you on Ginobili. I was contemplating on whether I should make Leonard or each team's sixth men (Ginobili and Harden) as my X-Factor. All three will be very important to the outcome of this series though.