NBA Playoffs 2012: 7 Pivotal Storylines in Western Conference Finals

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IMay 21, 2012

NBA Playoffs 2012: 7 Pivotal Storylines in Western Conference Finals

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    The San Antonio Spurs have earned a place in the Western Conference Finals after sweeping the Los Angeles Clippers with their 102-99 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

    Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the chance to close out Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night with Game 5 in Oklahoma City.

    If things come down to San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, fans are assured of an epic series with two of the best teams in the NBA.

    The series would include a ton of storylines to watch for. With that being said, here's a look ahead at the seven best storylines of a potentially epic Western Conference Finals.

Will the Spurs Ever Lose?

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    That's a fair question to ask, considering San Antonio is in the middle of an 18-game win streak.

    The Spurs have also won 29 of their past 31 games, exerting complete dominance since early March. One loss came to the Utah Jazz when Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were all given the night off.

    The other loss in that stretch came at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers behind a 30-rebound effort from Andrew Bynum.

    With the way San Antonio is playing, it appears a special effort such as Bynum's will be needed to hand them a loss.

Youth vs. Experience

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    What will prove to be more dominant, the youthful explosiveness of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden or the playoff experience of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili?

    It's a potential matchup of the top two scoring teams of the postseason. San Antonio is averaging 102.5 points per game through eight games, while the Thunder are right behind them at 99.3.

    Will the youth of the Thunder have Oklahoma City one step away from their first ring or will the veteran Spurs be that much closer to winning their fifth?

Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook

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    It's a matchup of two of the elite point guards in the NBA today in Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook.

    Parker has been fantastic all season and has carried his high level of play into the playoffs, averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 43 percent from the floor.

    Westbrook, on the other hand, has averaged 23.5 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

    This is the classic matchup of the pure point guard against the score-first point guard.

    Whoever gets the edge in this matchup could go a long way in determining who heads to the NBA Finals.

Home-Court Advantage

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    Both teams have been spectacular defending their home court, each going 4-0 during the postseason at home.

    On the regular season, both were equally tough, so stealing one game on the opposition's floor could become vital in this series, especially in the case of the Thunder since the Spurs will have home-court advantage.

    Including the postseason, San Antonio is a whopping 32-5 at home while the Thunder are 30-7, so winning in each other's building will not be an easy task.

Can Kevin Durant Continue the Magical Run?

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    Has there been any player in recent memory that's been as clutch late in games as Durant has this postseason?

    Durant has come through with big fourth-quarter shot after big fourth-quarter shot, and it will be very interesting to see how Gregg Popovich elects to defend him late in games.

    He's averaging 26.9 points per game in the postseason, but it's Durant's fourth-quarter play that has really stood out. If this series stays close, it will be interesting to see what "King Closer" can do to carry the Thunder.

Greg Popovich vs. Scott Brooks

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    Things often come down to coaching, and this series should be no exception.

    The NBA's Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich may have turned in his best coaching job of his legendary career during the regular season.

    There are few coaches in pro sports better at adjusting on the fly than Popovich, but Brooks is no slouch himself; the Thunder respond to what he preaches and it shows by their effort on the floor. 

    This could come down to which coach wins the chess match, which is always fun to watch.

Spurs' Legs

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    Coming into the season, the Spurs' collective age was questioned, but Popovich did a fantastic job keeping the veterans fresh.

    It hasn't been an issue during the postseason either, as the Spurs have swept both series to date and have had plenty of time to rest in between.

    However it's still worth asking the question of if they can hold up through a grueling seven-game series. it may not be an issue at all, but it's something worth considering.