At 8:30 PM EST on TNT, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will begin their seven-game series. The winner of the series will advance to the Western Conference Finals to face either the Golden State Warriors or Portland Trail Blazers. The Spurs completed their sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies last Sunday while the Thunder finished off the Mavericks in five games on Monday. Both the Spurs and Thunder have had plenty of time to rest and it is time for both of them to step back into the ring against a much more serious opponent.
For both the Spurs and Thunder, this series will be their first test of the playoffs. The Spurs beat up on the Grizzlies to the point that their head coach Dave Joerger was weeping at the conclusion of the series. That series was a joke from the opening tip off. As for the Thunder's series against the Mavericks, that series provided a little more drama, but even in that case, it was all one-way traffic in favor of the Thunder.
As far as the Spurs are concerned, their main focus in this series against the Thunder needs to be taking advantage of their balanced scoring attack and not letting Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook go bananas. If Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge both score around 20 points each and they get good production from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, odds are good the Spurs win this series provided Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook don't go off. In addition, the Spurs need to keep Enes Kanter at bay and not let anybody else come up big.
In regards to the Thunder, they need to do what they can to get guys like Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka rolling while also getting stellar production from their two superstars. The Thunder cannot win this series with only Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant carrying the load. The Spurs are too deep and the Thunder have to match that depth as best they can.
The battle on the boards and in the paint will also be key to this series. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, and David West of the Spurs will duke it out inside against Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams of the Thunder. Whichever front court controls the glass better and gets more points in the paint will give their team a decisive advantage. Even though the Spurs have more depth and more total weapons, the Thunder have a chance to make up for things by winning the battle in the paint. If they do, this series could end up going in their favor.
At the end of the day, I'm going to pick the San Antonio Spurs to win this series in six games. The Spurs have home court advantage and they have been the second best team in basketball all season. The Oklahoma City Thunder definitely have the pieces and tools to win this series, but it'll be no easy task for them. The Spurs have a ton of weapons, experience, home court advantage, and the better head coach in Gregg Popovich. If the Thunder end up winning this series, I'll be surprised.