The San Antonio Spurs are rolling through the 2012 NBA playoffs, dominating each of the teams that has dared to stand against them. However, dominance is a fragile thing and there are still ways the Spurs can improve moving forward.
Now that we know that the Spurs will face off against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference starting on Sunday, it is now easier to identify specifically what the Spurs need to improve upon based on the opponent they'll face.
Despite their seeming dominance of the Thunder in the regular season, the Spurs know that the Thunder have stepped up their game in the playoffs, cutting down on turnovers and playing great defense. That team will be tough to beat, but the Spurs are still well-equipped to do it.
Here are six ways the Spurs can improve despite their stellar play so far.
The Spurs are barely averaging less turnovers per game than they are forcing as a defense. That isn't a good sign for their matchup against Oklahoma City, since the Thunder are a team that can most easily be beaten by forcing them to turn the ball over.
The Thunder have done a great job of limiting their turnovers in the postseason. Point guard Russell Westbrook has been the highlight of this effort, giving up just 1.6 turnovers per game while also capitalizing on those of the other team.
The Spurs must limit their own turnovers and force more out of their opponent. It might be the biggest factor in their matchup with Oklahoma City.
The San Antonio Spurs have done well on defense, holding opponents to just 42 percent shooting and 88.8 points per game. However, the Thunder will be the most difficult challenge for the Spurs yet.
Unlike the Clippers or Jazz, Oklahoma City has multiple players that can get their own shot and create for others. They also have the young legs and athleticism to keep up in a scoring match with the Spurs.
San Antonio has played good defense, but it may not be good enough to shut down OKC. That must be fixed.
The Oklahoma City Thunder struggle greatly when teams can score down low on their defensive big men. Despite how they beat the Lakers in five games, it was a hard-fought series, primarily because of the Lakers' size and skill down low.
Tim Duncan is really the only Spurs big man that can compare skill-wise to the Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. The Spurs' offense has become more perimeter-oriented, but if they wish to defeat OKC, that won't be enough.
They need to base the offense around Duncan in the middle, using his skills to get them open perimeter shots.
One area the Spurs have been very lackluster in is rebounding. So far in the playoffs, San Antonio has averaged less rebounds per game than they have given up to their opponents.
The Thunder are a team that rebounds from literally every position on the floor. None of them have averaged more than 7.5 rebounds per game in the postseason, but the reason is because they all fight for the ball and take rebounds from each other.
Without having one guy to key in on, the Spurs must all be active on the boards. If they aren't, the Thunder will be.
The Thunder frontcourt is probably the best defensive frontcourt in the NBA. Serge Ibaka is the best shot-blocker in the league, averaging 3.75 swats per playoff game. Kendrick Perkins is a tough defender that can help out massively in the pick and roll game. Backups Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed also are very sound defensively.
The Spurs must be wary of how they take the ball to the basket, especially considering Ibaka's shot blocking abilities. He'll probably be guarding Boris Diaw to start in this series, which may allow him to cheat off and block shots.
These Thunder players know how to protect the rim and will do anything necessary to do so. San Antonio must understand this and be ready for it.
Unlike the Jazz and Clippers, the Thunder are not inexperienced in the ways of the playoffs. Oklahoma City is a young team, but are already seasoned playoff veterans.
If the Spurs get up big, this opponent will not lay down and take the beating the Spurs wish to give. And if the Thunder get up big, they will be able to hold onto a lead much better than the Spurs' previous opponents.
The point is this: the Spurs will not be able to walk all over this squad as they have the in the first two rounds. The Thunder are too proud, too confident and too good for that to happen.
The young, more inexperienced Spurs players will get there first taste of true playoff adversity in this matchup. Against a team that absolutely will take punches and punch back just as hard, it will be the veterans like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker that must take most of the burden.
This could be the series where the Spurs young talent finally shows its youth. By relying on the vets more, the Spurs can potentially keep that from happening.