NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals Preview

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

The San Antonio Spurs were able to advance to the Western Conference Finals once again after a surprisingly comfortable victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in five games. After seeing LaMarcus Aldridge dominate the Rockets in the first round, the Spurs were able to keep him relatively quiet.

The news that Ibaka will be out for the postseason will have been welcomed by the Spurs, whether they want to admit it or not. For now, San Antonio are reportedly preparing for this series with the assumption that Ibaka will in fact play, choosing to take a “we will believe it when we see it” approach.

If Ibaka is indeed out for the playoffs, it will leave the Thunder lacking a prominent shot blocker; which gives players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli the freedom to drive to the rim knowing that there is a high probability that they will not get blocked.

Could Parker’s injury stop the
Spurs from moving forward?
Tim Duncan will also benefit from the absence of Ibaka, as he will have an easier job getting his shots off, as he will not have to go up against someone as athletic as Ibaka. It is hard to see anyone on the Thunder’s roster that can defend Duncan, and it may be that we might even see Durant guarding Duncan at times, as his length and athleticism would cause the future Hall of Famer problems.

The Spurs, however, have problems of their own, with Tony Parker struggling with a niggling hamstring injury. Parker left the Spurs’ game five blowout win over the Trailblazers in the second quarter and did not return, a scary time for San Antonio fans. He is expected to play in game one, but it remains to be seen how much the injury will affect him. The Spurs will certainly need their point guard to be at his best; especially with the tough defensive assignment he has trying to stop Westbrook.

The Oklahoma City Thunder progressed to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Clippers in six hard fought games. This was quite a controversial series, with a number of questionable calls going in favor of the Thunder, especially late in the game. Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers expressed his disappointment in the officiating after seeing his team eliminated from the playoffs, receiving a $25,000 fine for his troubles.

Regardless of whether the Clippers were robbed or not, they were unable to compete with the scoring prowess of league MVP Kevin Durant and his sidekick, Russell Westbrook. In Oklahoma’s game five victory over the Clippers, Westbrook and Durant were the only Thunder players to score in double figures, proving that as long as they are on form the Thunder will always have a chance to win the game.

The Thunder will miss
their perennial shot blocker
The chances of the Thunder progressing to the NBA Finals have been seriously hampered by the news that Serge Ibaka will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering a calf injury in Oklahoma City’s game six win over the Los Angeles Clippers. This could force the Thunder to completely change their game plan, due to them not having a backup who can step into the team and do the same job that Ibaka does.

An option for the Thunder could be to slide Durant over to the power forward to guard Duncan, as Durant is as equally long and athletic as Ibaka. The problem is that they will likely have to play Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet a lot more minutes than they would normally like to in order to cover the minutes that Ibaka’s absence leaves available, as they offer next to nothing offensively, although as game five in the last series proved, the Thunder do not need many people to contribute offensively to secure a win.

The Thunder swept the regular season series 4-0 against the Spurs as they could not match the scoring output of Kevin Durant. It is very unlikely that we will see this postseason series being as uneven as it was in the regular season. Oklahoma’s speed and athleticism was too much for this aging Spurs roster to handle, however, San Antonio are a lot more rested than the Thunder after the whole team was held to minute limitations during the regular season. Expect this series to be closely fought, with the likelihood that we could see a seven game series between these two excellent teams.

Winner: Spurs in 7

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