Tonight’s showdown should be a hot contest as both teams look for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Thunder beat the Spurs in six games in last year’s conference finals, even though the Spurs had home court advantage.
The two teams have split both games so far this season, but it is worth noting that Spurs star Manu Ginobili missed both contests.
This time, a huge factor is that the Spurs will be without star point guard Tony Parker, as he is still recovering form a grade 2 ankle sprain.
Despite the setback, the Spurs managed to win their first two games without the MVP candidate. But their most recent game was an uninspired 136-106 loss at home to a middling Portland Trail Blazers team that only has nine road wins all season. They will hope to bounce back from giving up the second-most points at home in team history.
Most recently, the Thunder easily handled a stingy Boston Celtics team 91-79 in a defensive-minded game. Kevin Durant still managed 23 points and 11 rebounds, but he did not make a single three-pointer. The Thunder cannot be too happy when center Kendrick Perkins leads the team in assists with five.
Part of the reason is that star point guard Russell Westbrook was non-existent for much of the game, as he finished with only 15 points and two assists.
Thus, the biggest factor for the Spurs will be to play tight defense again in spite of Parker’s injury, especially against stars like Durant and Westbrook..
Durant will get his 15 good looks a game simply due to his size, speed and ability to get into open space. He is the leading scorer in the NBA for a reason.
But the key is to have players like Danny Green or Tim Duncan keep him off-balance or moving to his left, depending on where he is on the floor. Westbrook will look to redeem himself after a frustrating game against the Celtics, and with Parker gone he will be drooling for this matchup all day.
The Spurs are notoriously disciplined and well-coached on defense, and they must be for four quarters to avoid letting either star get into a long groove. The Trail Blazers made 62 percent of their field goals and three-pointers last game, and the Spurs must improve that drastically.
They must learn quickly how to stay productive on defense without Parker.
As for the Thunder, the biggest factor for them is Westbrook. In the Spurs most recent game, the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year, point guard Damien Lillard, had a field day in Parker’s absence. He scored 35 points and had nine assists. Westbrook must bounce back in a big way tonight in order for the Thunder to hang with a defensively sound Spurs team.
Another large factor is containing the Spurs’ role players. Even without Parker, this team has a number of versatile wingers and players who can put up points.
The Thunder must contain bench and role players like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Cory Joseph and Stephen Jackson. If the Thunder minimize the impact of these role players, then the impact of Duncan and Ginobili becomes much less detrimental.
In the end, this should be an extremely even matchup. The game would be much different if Parker were healthy, but the Spurs are still a deep team without him.
The Thunder can score on anyone, while San Antonio can stop anyone defensively. Winning matchups like this will have a big influence on home court advantage, as well as team confidence, heading into the playoffs.