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Spurs vs. Thunder: What to Watch in 1st Clash Between Western Conference Giants

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 4: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on April 4, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Joshua J VannucciniSenior Analyst IIINovember 27, 2013

There's been a few battles of the top teams in the league so far, but Wednesday's clash between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder should prove to be most entertaining.

It's a fight of old against new in this game.

San Antonio's wily veterans will be employing their dominant offensive and defensive system from mastermind coach Gregg Popovich. Oklahoma will showcase their youth, talent and raw athleticism with the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with a little Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson on the side.

It'll no doubt be an intriguing game, but there will be some things to keep tabs on over the course of it. Let's take a look at the itinerary and what's on offer between the Spurs and the Thunder.

 

How will Russell Westbrook fare against the Spurs defense?

Westbrook is a top-10 player in the NBA by any measurement, with his speed and athleticism proving too much to handle; except for San Antonio. Credit Popovich or Tim Duncan and the Spurs defense, but Westbrook has struggled mightily against them in recent years.

The point guard shot just 36.8 percent versus San Antonio last season but still got his numbers by averaging 23 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists through the four games. Oklahoma and San Antonio went 2-2 through those four games, with the Spurs winning the first on a botched defensive play where Westbrook infamously forgot to guard Tony Parker for the game-winning jumper.

While he'll go against Parker again, it's the entire Spurs team Westbrook will need to score against. He'll need to be more efficient for the Thunder to be successful. Westbrook's decisions with the ball and his concentration must be sharp, for any miscue will be taken advantage of by San Antonio.

Westbrook has a truckload of talent to get by on, but it'll be interesting to see if he can shake the trend the Spurs have put him in through their recent matchups.

 

Will Tony Parker have some rust coming out of the gate?

Parker has been insanely efficient offensively this season, shooting 54.5 percent from the field. If that wasn't enough, he's shot below the 50 percent threshold just twice. Parker is also playing the fewest minutes since his rookie year at 29.9 minutes per contest. He's been so great for the Spurs lately that it may come back to bite him on Wednesday.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - November 20: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs controls the ball against Courtney Lee #11 of the Boston Celtics at the AT&T Center on November 20, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

San Antonio has won their last five games by an average of 17 points, dominating the competition en route to an 11-game winning streak. Parker has played a combined 40 minutes his last two games, logging 25 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans and just 15 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Both were double-digit victories, but Parker's lessened time on the court might see him start slow against the Thunder. It isn't a sure thing, as the Spurs and the word "consistency" are inseparable. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Parker play as he always does, but there remains the potential he'll need to adjust to a contending defense and the talent of Westbrook. 

 

Can the Thunder stay unbeaten at home?

Oklahoma joins just San Antonio, the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers as the only teams to have perfect records at home. The Thunder lost only seven games at home last season and should look to continue their streak.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 24:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder huddles before the game against the Utah Jazz on November 24, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Oklahoma has one of the biggest fanbases in the league, and the local fans are diehard supporters. The Thunder have achieved 98.9 percent attendance or better the past five seasons, hitting 100 percent in the last three according to ESPN.com

To have that sort of support behind a team is a sight to behold and makes the crowd an essential component to success. The Spurs haven't won in Oklahoma during the regular season since March 16, 2012. The Thunder have dealt with San Antonio multiple times since then and will have their flawless home record on the line.

It will be a team effort, from both the players and the crowd, but Oklahoma will look to keep their success going in the "Thunderdome."

 

Can the Spurs keep their own record alive?

The Thunder's unbeaten home record is impressive, but it is a feat shared by San Antonio and few teams in the NBA. What the Spurs don't share with their Western Conference rival is a spectacular 11-game winning streak. 

San Antonio is joined by the Portland Trail Blazers in having the league's longest win streak, followed by the Miami Heat's seven-game streak. The Spurs have consistently been an excellent team on the road, topping .500 over the last decade. 

It would be feasible to predict San Antonio snatches another win in Oklahoma, keeping their success alive. It'll come at the expense of the Thunder though, and that's a challenge in itself.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - November 25: Boris Diaw #33 of the San Antonio Spurs goes up for the reverse layup against the New Orleans Pelicans during the game at the AT&T Center on November 25, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

The Spurs' longest streak from last season was 11 games as well, which ended at the hands of the Detroit Pistons. San Antonio missed both Duncan and Manu Ginobili that game, but both will be with the team for this season's chance to extend it.

One streak must end, but the chances are in the Spurs' favor to continue their streak. Their experience, coaching and the machine-like offense and defense they run may be too much for the oft-erratic and unpredictable Thunder. 

Wednesday will feature a plethora of exciting games to tune in for. Whether it's LeBron James and the Heat playing on the road in Cleveland, the struggling New York Knicks facing the Los Angeles Clippers or this Thunder vs. Spurs match, it's hardly likely you'll be walking away disappointed. 

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