Spurs (61-11, 24-11 road) vs. Thunder (50-22, 29-9 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.9 (2nd), Spurs – 109.0 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.8 (12th), Spurs – 95.8 (1st)
Six in a row. The Thunder are on their best stretch of the season at the right time. Yeah, the stretch after the All-Star break was worrisome. Not only were they 4-8, but it was the way in which they were losing games. Letting teams come back on them after they had built up a sizable lead. Committing costly mistakes at critical times. Too much dependence on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But since that post All-Star stretch, the Thunder have looked like a completely different team. Here’s a look at several key stats during the current win streak:
- Average margin of victory – 16.5 pts
- Average bench points per game – 49 pts
- Enes Kanter – 16.7 pts/8.8 rebs per game
- Opponent points per game allowed – 101.5
- Thunder points per game – 118
- Leads heading into the 4th quarter – 6
- Russell Westbrook triple-doubles – 4
- Josh Huestis games played/points scored – 1 game/3 points
- Josh Huestis’ Points Per Possession (1 shot minimum) – 3.0 pts/shot (1st in the NBA)
In other words, the Thunder are playing great.
With all that said, shame on you NBA for scheduling this game during the NCAA tournament. This is a primetime matchup. You knew at the beginning of the season this would be a primetime matchup. And yet, you scheduled it where the only place you could show it would be on NBATV. This year’s tournament has been good, but not as good as a Thunder vs. Spurs game.Edit: Apparently the top 5 players on the Spurs wanted to watch the Elite 8 games tonight, so they were given the night off. Go OU!
This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Spurs. The two teams have split their first two meetings, with each team winning on its home court. The first meeting of the season occurred on opening night, with the Thunder taking that game 112-106, behind two clutch mid-range from Dion Waiters over Tony Parker late in that 4th quarter. The second meeting, which was the Thunder’s last loss, came down to the 4th quarter. The Thunder headed into the 4th quarter of that game with a 2-point lead, but a critical defensive mistake by Westbrook allowed the flood gates to open for the Spurs, and they went on to outscore the Thunder by 10 in that final stanza.
The Spurs are currently 61-11, good for 2nd in the league at just about everything not named total team defense. They are on a historic track, but will probably need to win the title to be remembered for anything this season. With the Golden State Warriors on track to break the Bulls’ 72-10 record, anything the Spurs do will be viewed as second rate unless they win the title.
Since Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge are out for this game, I’ll talk about the players who will be available. Andre Miller will likely get the start at point guard for the Spurs tonight, but it will probably only in name. Kyle Anderson most likely will be the de facto point guard for San Antonio. The surprising engine that will be pushing the Spurs’ offense along will likely be point forward Boris Diaw. The recipients of the attention that will be paid to Diaw will be power forward David West and sharp-shooters Danny Green and Kevin Martin. Patty Mill will probably stick with his role as scorer off the bench, and rookies Jonathon Simmons and Boban Marjanovic will likely have increased roles.4
Big Things1. Keep it Rolling
Yes, the Spurs are resting their top 5 players. But San Antonio is known to surprise teams when they are resting players. If the Thunder come into this game thinking that it is a given, they may be in for a dog fight. If the Thunder come into this game knowing they are the superior team, but also playing the game as if Duncan and company are playing, then they should be fine.2. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
Westbrook will be guarded by Patty Mills and Andre Miller, while Durant will probably be guarded by some combination of Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, and/or Jonathon Simmons. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but the feasting/reaping will be there if they want it.3. The Mustache’ed Monsters vs. The Boban
The match-up everyone will be watching. If Marjanovic gets some playing time, it’ll be like Godzilla going against those two other monsters in the latest rendition of that franchise.4. Small Ball
The Spurs will likely play a lot of small ball with David West and Boris Diaw being their big men. West is very efficient from 15-18 feet, while Diaw’s range goes all the out to 3-point territory (38.5% on threes for the season). The Thunder’s regular line-up featuring Ibaka/Durant + a big will likely be athletic enough to keep up with West and Diaw, but if not, the Thunder may need to break out a small ball lineup of their own.
Andre Miller – I don’t know how far Miller has aged this season. But it seems like every season, he has one game against the Thunder where he just goes crazy with that “old man YMCA game” and scores 20+ on us. This seems like the perfect opportunity for him to do that tonight.
Thoughts from the Sideline
I understand why Gregg Popovich does it. I really do. But, I gave my tickets to a friend who will be seeing the Thunder play for the first time. And when I gave him the tickets, I told him, “Man, this is going to be a great match-up.” Well, it may still be a good game, but a lot of the mojo was taken out of the game when the Spurs decided to rest Duncan, Ginobili, Aldridge, and Parker (I can understand Leonard, as he has an injury). If you are going to rest players, do one or two at a time. Don’t completely tear the fabric of the game, just to rest your top players. Fans go to games to see the top players play. This may be a kid’s first time seeing a game live, and he may have wanted specifically to see the top players on the Spurs. Instead, he’ll be watching their reserves when he didn’t have to. It’s one thing to be out because of injury. But its another thing to rest all your top players at once because you wanted to. That seems wrong to me.