San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Chesapeake Energy Center, Oklahoma City, OK
April 4, 2013, 8:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: TNT - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
After taking a teeny-tiny little break against the Orlando Magic (did anyone seriously think that was going to be a close game?), the San Antonio Spurs are now slated to go up against a powerhouse of a basketball team in the Oklahoma City Thunder. This game is just the latest in what has proven to be a gauntlet of a schedule for the Spurs, where they will have gone up against five of the six best teams in the league in five of their last six games. So far in that stretch, the Spurs are 3-2, with all of the games against good teams (e.g. Not the Magic) being decided by two points or less. Oh yeah, this game is also a SEGABABA and a FOGAFINI. Awesome.
In addition to being part of arguably the toughest stretch of the Spurs season, this is the final regular season matchup against the Thunder, and a possible tiebreaker for the number one seed in the Western Conference is on the line. Currently the series stands at 2-1, in San Antonio's favor. If the Spurs win tonight, then the tiebreaker would be won outright by them. However, if Oklahoma City wins the game, then it ties the series up for good, and that means the tiebreaker would have to be decided in another fashion. According to the handy-dandy NBA Rulebook, in an event where two teams split the season series, a tiebreaker is decided by
a duel to the death between the two teams' coaches amount of conference wins. According to their records as of now, the Thunder currently have the better conference record (34-13, to the Spurs record of 32-14). So, basically, the Spurs have to win tonight to properly secure a potential tiebreaker for the number one seed. Considering how well both teams play at home in the Playoffs, it's kind of a big deal.
The Thunder have come under a little bit of scrutiny lately. They've been called out for not being as joyous as they were last year around this time, which is probably fair to say. Every team goes through its own ebbs and flows over the course of a season, and right now there's been bit more ebb than flow in Oklahoma City. I'm not sure it's a huge deal, but one thing that's been interesting to watch is how they've become less of a passing team in the second half of the season. Early on it was easy to marvel at how they shared the ball so well, and now they're down to 21st in the league in assists.
Something that can be counted as a good sign for the Spurs tonight is that Derek Fisher gets a significant amount of playing time for the Thunder. Since signing with Oklahoma City, Fisher has somehow worked his way into the rotation, getting 14.3 minutes per night. Now, the reason that's good for San Antonio is that Derek Fisher has been mind-numbingly bad this year. He's shooting .316 from the field, and .290 from beyond the arc, and is somehow still taking away minutes from an amazing scorer in Reggie Jackson. The only thing Fisher really brings to the table is "veteran leadership", which I think is Mayan for "terrible defense and missing 21 shots in a row."
Of course, the Spurs have a couple worries of their own, mainly that since Manu Ginobili is out for the game, there's no one other than Tony Parker to create plays for others. Ginobili has had a rough stretch scoring the ball, but he is still a great distributor whose abilities are sorely missed. We saw this a good amount in the Miami game, as Parker had his pick-and-roll game taken away from him, and he couldn't swing it over to anyone else on the perimeter to really get a play going. Oklahoma City has a nice, athletic defense, and you can expect them to try and trap Parker and force him to pass quickly. Somebody else will need to take on that second distributor role, whether it's Nando De Colo off the bench or Kawhi Leonard running side pick-and-rolls.
Barring Popovich making any last-minute switches, this is what I expect the starting lineups to be:
Thunder perspective can be found here: Welcome to Loud City
Game prediction: Keeping up with the way the past few games have gone, Spurs by 2.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.