San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City ThunderChesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
November 27, 2013, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
There is little doubt that the 11-game winning-streak the San Antonio Spurs are currently riding is as impressive as anything that has happened in the NBA so far this season, but a closer examination of the schedule to date does give pause to the roses we'd like to already throw at the team's feet. In reality, the win over an 8-6 Golden State team is probably the best win to date on the schedule. The best team San Antonio has faced thus far this season, Portland, beat the Spurs and is also riding an 11-game winning-streak.
Any criticism of the Spurs' schedule will soften tonight when the good guys take on Oklahoma City, the last Western Conference team to beat the Spurs in the playoffs. There are still quite a few people that contend San Antonio never makes the NBA Finals in 2013 if Russell Westbrook doesn't go down to an injury in last year's playoffs, but the Spurs get an early chance to show who is still on top of the West in this early-season showdown.
Much like the Spurs, OKC is rolling through the early part of the season with a 9-3 record and a four-game winning-streak after knocking off a putrid Jazz team in its most recent outing. To the surprise of no one it has been Kevin Durant that has paced this team with a team-high 28.6 points to go along with 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. When Durant came into the league he was known as a pure scorer, but his overall game has improved each year as he becomes a more aggressive rebounder and a willing passer when teams double-team him on a nightly basis.
The cog that makes OKC really go happens to be one of the more decisive point guards in the league - Russell Westbrook. After a superhuman return from injury, in which he missed just three games to start the season, Westbrook has quickly established himself, again, as one of the premier point guards in the league -- even if he does it in a less conventional way than some fans would like. There's no doubt that Westbrook is more of a scorer/slasher than distributor, but that works for an OKC offense that only has three players averaging in double figures. Does he shoot too much? Maybe, but the Thunder need him to in order to be successful because, outside of Durant, they're very limited offensively.
Rebounding and defense are where the front-court of the Thunder makes their bones. Serge Ibaka is averaging a team-high 10.1 rebounds and 2.25 block shots and is third on the team with 14.5 points per game. He's still not a polished player on the offensive side of the court, but he has been a guy that the Spurs have struggled to guard in the past due to his mid-range game, length and athleticism on the offensive glass.
Kendrick Perkins is overpaid and has a very unique stat-line, but his presence is key for OKC, proven by the fact the Thunder lost the two games he missed this season due to a death in the family. Yes, Steven Adams is the center with a higher upside and more polish to his game, but Perkins adds a toughness and attitude that OKC lacks when he's not around the team. Adams is turning into one of the better second-string centers in the game, however, averaging over a block a game in 18.8 minutes on the floor.
Where the Spurs have had the advantage in the last 11 games is off of the bench, but that may not be as true against OKC and that is what makes these two teams the favorites to play for the Western Conference Championship next summer. Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson are each averaging over nine points a game off the bench, and Jackson leads the team in assists per game. Lamb is no James Harden, but he is an offensive upgrade over Thabo Sefolosha when he enters the game. The best lineup for OKC is when Jackson can come in to run the point, moving Westbrook to the off-guard position with Durant at small forward and Sefolosha on the bench. The issue with that lineup is the defensive liability OKC has in the backcourt against shooting guards playing that small.
OKC is statistically the best rebounding team in the league, averaging 47 rebounds a game. That production on the offensive glass helps OKC score 103.5 points per game, while their ability to hold teams to one-and-done on the defensive side of the ball helps OKC keep opponents to 98.8 points per game.
Matchup to watch: The talk in San Antonio is that Kawhi Leonard is the future for this organization and he'll have a worthy test in Kevin Durant. No one should expect Leonard to match Durant shot-for-shot, but Leonard has the frame and athleticism to be a guy that can disrupt Durant better than many other small forwards around the league. This may be a game where Leonard's offensive responsibilities are lessened to give him more energy on the defensive end, but if he can come close to matching the effectiveness of Durant on both sides of the court; the Spurs have a much better chance of winning this game and increasing the winning-streak to 12.
Thunder perspective can be found here: Welcome to Loud City
Game Prediction: Spurs by 4.
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.
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