San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City ThunderAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
January 22, 2014, 7:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: ESPN - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
The fan base of the Spurs looks at the regular season like an exercise in futility, as we all prepare for what truly matters - the playoffs. We've all seen this song and dance before, for years, so the ups don't quite seem as high and the lows never seem real for San Antonio until the playoffs start. This year has been no different. San Antonio leads the Western Conference over Portland and Oklahoma City with a 32-9 record. The Spurs are also 8-2 over the past 10 games, which is tied for the best mark in the West over that span.
Everything is fine. However, the one speed bump so far has been San Antonio's performances against the teams we all deem as factors in the playoffs. The Spurs are 1-7 against the top teams in the league this season, and while none of that will matter come playoff time, the trend will eventually become more and more alarming if it continues as the All-Star break comes and goes.
The Spurs will have a chance to put a cold towel over those concerns when OKC strolls into San Antonio tonight with Russell Westbrook out, again, with an injury. Beating OKC might not mean much to Spurs fans now, but remember that the Thunder are the last team in the Western Conference to take out the Spurs in a playoff series and that the Thunder are currently 2-0 against the Spurs the season. The last loss to OKC came on Dec. 21 when the Thunder rode a big second quarter to a large lead that the Spurs could never evaporate. In that game, Westbrook was dominant, so the Spurs should have an easier time controlling the OKC backcourt this time around, at least on paper.
One would think that OKC would have the freshness advantage due to the age of their stars, but San Antonio is going to get a Thunder team without its second best player and on the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder beat Portland at home last night in what may prove to be the toughest two-day stretch for a team in the NBA this season.
As usual, it all starts and stops for OKC with Kevin Durant. "Durantula" has started in all 41 games this season, proving that durability is one of the least appreciated aspects of his game. In those games he is averaging just over 30.6 points and over seven rebounds and five assists a game. Add the 1.5 steals per game and nearly a block per game and you have the leading candidate for MVP walking onto that court tonight. KD's PER is 30.5. That is not a typo.
In this month especially, Durant has been lights out. He comes into this game with 8 straight 30 point games, and he's scored 30 in 9 of his 11 total games in January. He's averaged 36.1 points on 50.1% from the field, while also dishing out 6.1 assists and snatching 5.1 rebounds per game. He is, without a doubt, playing the best stretch of basketball he has ever played in his career, and his next target is San Antonio.
Durant is obviously priority number one on the defensive end for San Antonio, but Reggie Jackson, the point guard replacing Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup due to injury, cannot be overlooked. His numbers do not display how well he has played at times over the past few weeks, or how he seems to always shine brightest versus the Spurs. Jackson has played well enough to force OKC to think about letting him run the point down the stretch when Westbrook returns. Reggie on point with Westbrook at the off-guard and KD on the wing like the Thunder used to do with James Harden coming off of the bench.
Jackson is prone to mistakes, and he's streaky, and he's not a great defender, but OKC can cover up some of his defensive flaws with shot-blocker Serge Ibaka, a guy that has had some success against the Spurs frontcourt over his career. Ibaka has improved on the offensive end with his improved mid-range jumper, but it is his presence on defense that made OKC choose to keep him over Harden a few off seasons back. Ibaka is averaging 13.3 points per game to go along with nine rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
Role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Steven Adams add depth to go along with a struggling and sometimes useless Kendrick Perkins. [[Editor: KP did have a steal, a block, and hit a 15-footer last night in crunch time of a close game. -CI]] Jeremy Lamb is averaging nearly 10 points a game off of the bench for the Thunder, but he has in no way filled the void left by Harden.
There will be no surprises in this matchup. Each player, coach, and fan base understands what the other is trying to accomplish. This game will come down to execution, and it will probably come down to which team executes the best down the stretch. OKC can fill it up and Durant has been on fire lately, but the Spurs can win this game if they can disrupt Jackson on the offensive end and get Ibaka into foul trouble by not settling for perimeter jump shots.
Matchup to watch: KEVIN DURANT. WATCH HIM. ALL. GAME. LONG. His recent outbursts will make it mandatory for the silver and black to do everything they can to slow him down. Make him a facilitator and not a shot-maker early in the game and hope that keeps him out of rhythm down the stretch. Durant is going to get his points, but making him a volume shooter puts a lot of pressure on OKC to find other scoring options without Westbrook.
Thunder perspective can be found at: Welcome to Loud City
Game Prediction: Spurs by 1. Maybe.
Line in Vegas: Spurs by 6 1/2
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.
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