The Spurs have a very good veteran led team poised for a playoff run.
As the playoffs rapidly approach, the Western Conference remains one of the more intriguing storylines. Many of the seedings remain undecided although the top two are beginning to look more and more certain.
The Los Angeles Lakers have small cushion at the slot for the No. 3 seed. That position would place the Lakers in an advantageous position to eventually take on one, if not both of the top two seeds on a path to the NBA Finals.
Which team would the Lakers prefer to match up against? Neither will be an easy opponent and the Lakers could get beaten by both of them. However, despite of an 0-2 record against the Thunder this season, there are a few reasons why the Lakers just might fare better against the Thunder than the Spurs.
Gregg Popovich is one of the best in the game today.
This one should be somewhat unanimous. Even Thunder fans would probably acknowledge that Gregg Popovich, with his decorated resume and multiple Finals wins, would qualify as a superior coach to Scott Brooks.
Brooks has done a nice job in OKC and he's not in danger of losing his job, but he's also had some notable postseason hiccups. That's not to say Popovich, whose top-seeded Spurs lost to an eight seed last season, hasn't had his failings as well—they've just been buffered by those rings. All four of them.
That doesn't even take into account the regular-season accomplishments, which include three 60-win seasons and a career win-loss record of 837-398.
For Brooks' part he's done a nice job, but until his team can advance at the very least to the NBA Finals he's a long way from being placed in the same category as Popovich.
Tiago Splitter is one of several key players who come off the bench for San Antonio.
While Oklahoma City has the best individual player that comes off the bench in James Harden, the Spurs have a deep, experienced and effective bench that has single-handedly won them some games over the course of the season.
The manner in which the benches match up is key because the Lakers have one of the worst benches in the league.
The Spurs bench features Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, Patrick Mills and Manu Ginobili. It's balanced, strong and plays as a unit.
It's not really a bench as much as a second shift or rotation, and there have been times this season when they've outperformed the starters. That would pose a serious problem for a Lakers team that just doesn't have the horses to compete with the deeper teams. It would place a ton of pressure on the Lakers' starting five, and over the course of an intense best-of-seven series it could make a huge difference.
Russell Westbrook keeps the Thunder offense moving at an uptempo pace.
The Oklahoma City Thunder play the game of basketball at a breakneck pace. They run, they dunk, they play in transition. They're a nightmare for other teams, most of whom are older, slower and not as athletic.
There's really only one way to slow down a team like that.
While the Lakers have yet to beat the Thunder in a head-to-head matchup this season, the simple fact remains that the Lakers are the best rebounding team in the Western Conference. That does provide them with a solid manner in which to disrupt the offense that the Thunder are known for.
Slowing down Oklahoma City in no way ensures a team of a win. The Thunder are not that one-dimensional, but it still makes things more difficult for them and that's an advantage any team will take.
The Spurs celebrate their 2007 NBA title.
Picture this. It's the start of the fourth quarter of Game 7. The Lakers take the floor in a tie game. Standing across from them on the court are one of two options.
1. An exceptionally talented Oklahoma City team whose best players have yet to play in a NBA Finals and whose two most experienced players are either an aging backup point guard in Derek Fisher or a role-playing center in Kendrick Perkins. It's not a bad crew to attack the fourth quarter of a decisive game with. It's not as good as No. 2, though.
2. The San Antonio Spurs led by a power forward with four rings, a point guard with three and a shooting guard with three. They've been in this situation several times and they've won. The crowd, the gravity of the circumstance, the intensity level on the court—all of those things are quite familiar to this crew. They might win or they might lose, but the peripheral things won't determine that outcome.
If you're the Lakers, you'll take No. 1 over No. 2. You might not be thrilled with either choice and the Lakers could lose to either team, but the Spurs won't be intimidated by the stress of a big playoff series. The Thunder? Well, that remains to be seen.
Things weren't always smooth sailing between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in last year's playoffs.
While the core of the San Antonio Spurs has been playing together and winning together for almost 10 years, the core of the Thunder is known more for its discord in big moments than its harmony.
While both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have publicly made nice and played together with lethal effectiveness this season. One still must wonder what will happen when, and if, their backs are against the wall in a big playoff game.
History isn't so kind to them.
Last season Westbrook was benched for the entire fourth quarter of a playoff game.
Maybe everything has changed, maybe the two players and the team as a whole are all on the same page and this type of behavior is in the past. We won't know until we see the Thunder stare down the pressures of the postseason.
We can safely assume Tim Duncan or Tony Parker won't be sitting out the fourth quarter of a playoff game for acting immature on the court.