|2012 Head to Head Meetings|
||Oklahoma City (-6) 108 vs. San Antonio 96
||San Antonio (-2.5) 107 vs. Oklahoma City 96
||San Antonio (+5) 114 at Oklahoma City 105
Skinny: San Antonio waited eight days for its series with the L.A. Clippers to start and proceeded to wrap up another 4-0 sweep in just six days. As a result, the Spurs enter the Western Conference Finals having played just eight times in a month's time, which in this lockout-shortened season, means everything.
|The Spurs have gone 8-0 SU and 6-2 ATS in this year's playoffs. (Getty Images)
Getting another full week to prepare for this series, the Spurs will obviously have fresh legs. Everyone is healthy. They've been getting after it in intense practices designed to keep them sharp and will open this series against second-seeded Oklahoma City at home, where they've beaten teams by an average of 19.8 points on this 9-0 run that makes up part of their epic 18-game-winning streak.
It should be no surprise that despite the inevitable Geritol jokes and AARP references, their betting backers have cashed in on the Spurs throughout the streak, only failing to cover in their two close-out games.
So if you've been wondering how a Thunder team making their second consecutive conference finals appearance behind three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant can be a -175 underdog here, it's because San Antonio has been that good.
Oklahoma City is plenty ready to take its next step. Age is unfortunately likely to be mentioned at nauseum in this series, but the Thunder have reached this level and learned plenty from a team that ended up winning it all. They're not inexperienced. Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed inflate their average age and bring a ring collection to the table. Don't paint them with the young brush. OKC's average age is 25.4, a tad younger than San Antonio's (27).
Durant is surging, while Russell Westbrook and James Harden have been explosive and efficient. The trio combined for 70 points in the clincher against the L.A. Lakers, while Serge Ibaka has achieved cult status by continuing his run as the NBA's premier shot-blocker, averaging 3.67 in the postseason. The Thunder have run through defending champion Dallas and L.A. with one sole blemish during their nine-game playoff run. The only starter with a championship ring, Kendrick Perkins, has held down the fort despite dealing with a nagging hip strain that should be improved.
OKC has the speed edge on the Spurs, whose strengths are depth and cohesion. Perkins and San Antonio's X-factor DeJuan Blair have had some drama in the past, so that's a physical battle worth watching, but unlike the Eastern Conference slugfests, this series should be pleasing to watch and can be counted on not to have fourth-quarter scores that resemble those at halftime.
Believe the hype. This is a series you can't miss. Down the road, we'll probably be grateful owners and the players union ended the lockout simply because it helped preserve this offering.
Head-to-Head Matchups: Oklahoma City held serve at home in January and San Antonio followed suit in February. In the most recent meeting, the Spurs notched a 114-105 road win. The Spurs' Manu Ginobili didn't play in any of the games, while Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson and Derek Fisher had yet to suit up when they last played. All three games went over the posted total, which is why this first total is starting out over 200, a rarity at this stage of the season.
The Thunder are most concerned with the pick-and-roll game of point guard Tony Parker, who dropped a career-high 42 points and nine assists in the 107-96 victory on Feb. 4. It was a virtuoso effort where he called his own number 29 times and managed to still dish out nine assists, putting the danger he poses OKC on full display after an awful 1-for-8 night that where he subbed out early due to injury when the teams first met. Parker scored 25 points in the final meeting and will key the Spurs by making Westbrook work on both ends.
San Antonio's goal with Westbrook is to help turn him over and disrupt OKC's recent offensive harmony. Parker has rattled him in the past, but he's never been more efficient with the ball. Averaging just 1.6 turnovers this postseason after turning it over just four times in the entire Lakers series, Westbrook is excelling. The team that turned the ball over the most during the regular season has committed the fewest during these playoffs (10.7). Durant scored below his NBA-high 28.0 scoring average in each of the three games (22.8) but rebounded extremely well (9.3) and knows he has to be active. Harden also comes in with a lot of confidence about what he can do against San Antonio, averaging 19.3 off the bench. He'll be a problem for Ginobili.
Betting Notes: Most books put the opening line at 5, the lowest that's been available for a Spurs home game since Mar. 25, the third night of a back-to-back against Philadelphia. Each of the four postseason matchups at AT&T Center has featured double-digits spreads which have been covered... The last failed home cover doubles as San Antonio's last loss (Apr. 11)... Oklahoma City hasn't been as efficient at home against the spread, going 2-3 despite the 5-0 playoff SU mark at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Spurs handed Oklahoma City their largest home deficit of 2012 by going up 63-36 in the first half of the March matchup... For stats hounds, these were the No. 2 and No. 3 scoring teams in the regular season, each averaging 103 points. Both surrendered an average of just over 96. They are one-two scoring the ball this postseason, with the Spurs up 102.5-100. San Antonio was the top 3-point shooting team in the league (39.3), while Oklahoma City's free-throw shooting topped the 80 percent mark, also tops in the NBA. Those shooting trends have continued, as the Spurs (42.3) and Thunder (84.0) continue to lead the NBA in the aforementioned categories.
Series Outlook: This Spurs team has become renowned for their ball movement and shooting prowess, but has demonstrated the ability to clamp down for long stretches this postseason. An elite defensive rebounding team, San Antonio is unlikely to allow Ibaka and Perkins to keep too many extra possessions alive, putting extra pressure on OKC to score efficiently and make sure the pace is fast. That's a dangerous game to play with the Spurs, but Westbrook and Harden killed the Lakers bigs by abusing them on pick-and-roll switches and hope their speed and aggressiveness will be a critical factor. Odds are great that we'll get at least a few shootouts in this series since both are so confident in their ability to put the ball in the basket. That creates a tendency to relax on the defensive end. Expect Ibaka and Perkins to be have issues with foul trouble throughout the series. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see the series go the distance, which is where San Antonio is going to feel fortunate that resting veterans down the stretch never caught up with them, hosting that potential Game 7. Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich has been packing a Midas touch throughout this strike-shortened season, which is why that robust series price seems merited.