The Spurs may not get much publicity or hype outside the city of San Antonio and this very website, but one thing that cannot be denied to this team is respect. Read any game recap by local beat writers, SB Nation team sites, or even listen in on post game interviews from opposing players and you'll see how in awe everybody is of what Popovich has his team doing right now. Heck, read the Opponent Game Thread from Indy Cornrows and you'll see how badly fans wish they could be in our shoes instead of their own (granted, I wouldn't want to be a Pacers' fan right now either).
Nobody looks as inept or flawed doing their job as they do when they play the Spurs. Because of this, the team we love is able to dismantle squads left and right and leave with a good amount of their fans' and organization's admiration. It's the equivalent of moving to a new school, beating up the resident bully, and leaving with his girlfriend.
Spurs fail to give best effort against Thunder
If another team won 19 in a row and then lost their 20th on the road in a five-games-in-seven-nights scenario, people would shrug and still label them contenders. When the Spurs do it, they're overrated frauds who've been finally exposed.
I preface this piece with that imagery because, tonight, it's a different story. The Spurs face the Oklahoma City Thunder; a team that, other than respecting Pop, very little in those first couple paragraphs applies to.
To put it bluntly, the Thunder have had their way with San Antonio for the better part of two years. It's actually been full calendar year since the Spurs have beaten OKC (March 11, 2013) and, in all honesty, it feels even longer.
This season San Antonio is 0-3 against Scott Brooks' team, but unlike the rest of the NBA who gets trampled by a stampede of Durant's points, it's been the players not named Kevin who have beaten Spurs. In the loss on November 27th, it was Reggie Jackson's 23 bench points and Serge Ibaka's 5 blocks that allowed OKC to hold onto the win. On December 21st, while Durant was held to only 17 points, Russell Westbrook made up for it by putting up 31 to go with Reggie Jackson's 21 to put the game out of reach for Los Spurs. Yes, in the January 22nd matchup KD put up 37 points as part of his crazy month rampage without Westbrook, but that game was close late before Reggie Jackson (him again!!) sealed the deal with some buckets in the final minutes. He finished that game with 27 points and 8 assists.
The latter two of the Thunder wins can come with an asterisk, though. Kawhi was out for the game in December, while Danny Green and Tiago Splitter were both out for the January game. That was also the game Leonard got his finger caught on Steven Adams' arm (cue the mental image!) and sat out the rest of the game.
So now that the Spurs are fully healthy and on a tear, this will be the game they show OKC who the real Slim Shady is, right? Thanks to the magical scheduling fairies that work for the NBA, it won't be that easy.
To illustrate this, JRW posted a piece that highlighted a comment by Pounder Alamo a couple days ago. In that comment, Alamo nailed the fact that this could be a scheduled loss due to this game being a FIGASENI for the Spurs while OKC is coming off of three days rest after playing the Jazz. San Antonio will undoubtedly need to dig deep to compete with this well-rested Thunder team.
But this team, and fan base, shouldn't make or accept excuses. If the Spurs win, it's because they will have played sound, systematic basketball; the same game plan that has beaten the previous 19 teams. If the Spurs lose for whatever reason, it will be an end to an amazing streak and allow more room for a focused approach to the stretch of the season that matters most.
The biggest element that stems from the result of this game will be seeding. Worst case scenario: if San Antonio comes out of this game with a loss they will still be in first place up 3 games over OKC with 6 games left to play. That is not a bad situation to be in.
Matchup to watch: I love watching Kawhi guard to best players in the league. He's the great equalizer to for many other team's studs. Seeing him frustrate and pester LeBron on defense a few weeks ago was a delight. While Leonard discouraged James from getting clear paths to the basket, he's going to have to be in Kevin Durant's face at all times if he plans on shutting him down. Unlike LeBron, Durant seems more comfortable when defenses make him pull up from deep. I'm curious and excited to see Kawhi, who has been so good on defense as of late, be all up in Durant throughout the game.
Key Bench Players
The perspective of Thunder fans can be found here: Welcome to Loud City
Game Prediction: Spurs by 3
Line in Vegas: Overnight line unavailable as the books wait to see who Pop is going to play.
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.
Get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment:
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