The NBA’s Western Conference Finals tip off in just about a half-hour and it matches up the conferences two best teams in the regular season as well as the playoffs in the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spur finished the regular season 50-16 and have rolled through the playoffs thus far, sweeping both the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers. Meanwhile, the Thunder finished three games behind the Spurs in the regular season at 47-19, and in the playoffs have swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and taken down the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. These two teams have been the best teams in the conference since this season’s second week, as the Thunder held the top spot from week two through April 6, and then the Spurs leapfrogged the Thunder and never gave the position back. The Spurs also come in to the series on an 18 game winning streak going back to the regular season, so it’s safe to say that this is the matchup that most basketball fans expected to see out West. This should be a thrilling series and exciting basketball, but in the end I expect to see the Spurs advance and maybe in five games. In the regular season the Spurs took two of three from the Thunder and with the incredible run that these Spurs are on I don’t see the Thunder getting in their way.
Point Guard – Tony Parker (Spurs) vs. Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
The matchup at the PG position is the one to watch the closest in this series. In the playoffs this year Tony Parker is averaging 19 points and 7 assists and he is the facilitator for the Spurs offense. They may play a boring brand of offensive basketball, but it is effective, and Tony Parker playing like one of the best guards in the league is a major reason for that. Russell Westbrook is no slouch himself and is one of the more athletic guards in the league so it will be fun to see how he can use his speed and quickness to counter the more fundamentally savvy Parker. Westbrook is the Thunder’s second leading postseason scorer at 24 points per game, but he will need to share the ball better for the Thunder to compete (only 4.4 assists per game).
Shooting Guard: Danny Green, Manu Ginobili (Spurs) vs. Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden (Thunder)
The 2-guard position is one that both teams use players off their bench to fill important minutes. The Spurs start Danny Green and have the experienced Manu Ginobili come off the bench as the 6th man, and both players are averaging double figure points in the playoffs (10.4 for Green, 11.3 for Manu). The Spurs also have Gary Neal and James Anderson on their bench at the position so that depth could be a major factor. The Thunder counter with Sefolosha and more importantly James Harden who is averaging over 30 minutes per game and contributing 17 points and 5 rebounds per game. Harden won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season, but I have to go with Manu and the Spurs depth in this series.
Slight Advantage: Spurs.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson (Spurs) vs. Kevin Durant (Thunder)
Small forward is one position where the Thunder have a major edge. Leonard and Jackson average about 14 points per game combined, while Durant has become one of the best players at the position despite being only 23 years of age. Durant is averaging almost 27 points per game so far this postseason and I expect him to have a huge series and prove to the world that he belongs to be in the conversation for the league’s best players.
Advantage: Thunder in a land-slide.
Power Forward: Tim Duncan (Spurs) vs. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison (Thunder)
Tim Duncan is 36 years old but he is still playing like he has a few more great years left in him. Over the Spurs eight games this postseason he is averaging over 17 points a game and adding 9 rebounds, and he is one of the most dominant power forwards to ever play the game of basketball. The Thunder counter with two more defensive minded power forwards in Ibaka and Collison. Ibaka has some offensive skill, averaging almost 10 points per game and grabbing 6 rebounds, while Collison averages about 3 points and 3 rebounds a game. Ibaka’s biggest strength though is his shot blocking as he averages just under 4 per game and with his athleticism I would not be surprised if he keeps those numbers up.
Center: Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter (Spurs) vs. Kendrick Perkins (Thunder)
Perkins is my boy, but in this series the Spurs centers do have the edge. The Spurs centers average about 14 points and 9 rebounds combined, while Perk is offensively challenged at 4 points and 6 rebounds per game. Perkins is a much better defender than either of the Spurs duo and is averaging a block and a half per game, but I still feel that the Spurs have the edge at the position.
Slight Advantage: Spurs.
My Series Prediction: Spurs in Five.
Series MVP: Tim Duncan