The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are preparing to go to war as we speak in the NBA's Western Conference Finals, and the contrast in styles between the two teams could not be more polar opposite.
One team likes to get up and down the court at a frenetic pace, while the other loves to slow the game down and execute their half-court offense to limit the possessions of their opponent.
Both teams have certain strengths and weaknesses the other can take advantage of during this series. I predict we'll see a long, hard battle that could go to seven games as both teams possess the talent and will to test one another to the limit.
Here are both teams' greatest strengths and weaknesses.
Spurs' Strength: Passing Within the Half-Court Offense
There isn't a team left in the playoffs that can pass the ball like the Spurs.
During the regular season, they ranked fourth in the NBA with over 23 assists per game, according to ESPN.com. They have outdone themselves during their playoff run, surpassing or matching that number in each of their last four games.
Tony Parker leads the charge and his assist numbers have risen slightly in the playoffs, averaging over eight per game.
The Spurs can dissect just about any defense by either utilizing Tim Duncan's post presence and running the ball through him or by Parker's penetrate-and-dish strategy.
Spurs' Weakness: Stopping Fast Breaks
Will the Spurs struggle to contain the fast break of the Thunder?
During the regular season, the Spurs struggled to stop their opponents from running on them. They allowed an average of just under 14 points per game in that category and ranked 19th in the NBA, according to TeamRankings.com.
It's not surprising, considering the fact that the Spurs have some old legs on their roster. Even Parker—who manages to maintain a baby-face despite his ever-present five o'clock shadow—isn't a spring chicken anymore at the age of 30.
This will be a problem if the Spurs have an off-shooting night and struggle to get offensive rebounds. If the Thunder get going on their fast-breaks a few nights, they could very well take the series.
Thunder's Strength: Running Their Fast Break
The Thunder are one of the most dangerous running teams in the NBA, averaging over 16 points per game during the regular season, according to TeamRankings.com. Their roster is still young, and therefore they have fresh legs even now that the playoffs are halfway finished.
Russell Westbrook is one of the quickest, fastest players in the league, and he loves to get his team running up and down the floor for quick scores.
His running partner, Kevin Durant, is always ready to receive a pass to finish off a fast break or to trail the speedy Westbrook and follow up with an offensive rebound and put back should Westbrook's efforts fail.
This team is dangerous in the open court, which makes the matchup against the Spurs even more intriguing, since they struggle to stop teams from running on them.
Thunder's Weakness: Passing in Their Half-Court Offense
Oklahoma City isn't know for being a strong passing team and they finished the regular season dead-last in that category with only 18.5 assists per game, according to ESPN.com.
The Thunder usually rely on Westbrook and Durant to create their own offense, something that could be a problem against the Spurs.
The Spurs are an excellent half-court defensive team, and with Duncan looking as healthy and rested as we've seen in years, they aren't letting teams get inside for easy scores so far this postseason.
The Thunder will either need to have excellent shooting nights from their stars or learn how to play better within a half-court set if they have any hopes of winning—especially on the road in San Antonio.
X-Factor: Spurs' Bench Plus Gregg Popovich
The Spurs have the deepest bench that I've seen in years.
Manu Ginobili isn't a starter anymore, yet he's still the team's third-leading scorer. Gary Neal could be a starting point guard on a lot of teams, and he is capable of catching fire from the outside. Stephen Jackson and Tiago Splitter both see plenty of action every night.
There isn't a huge drop-off in talent when Popovich wants to rest his starters. Speaking of Pop, he's the best coach in the NBA, and his playoff experience shouldn't be overlooked.
Both teams scored a lot of points during the regular season, and both teams have continued that trend in the playoffs.
The Spurs have more of an advantage from a traditional playoff point of view. They can execute in the half-court and they have a tough half-court defense.
That being said, if the Thunder stay hot from the field and if the Spurs struggle from the field, we may see the younger team outscore their opponent by taking advantage of their fast-break offense.
In the end, though, the Spurs have too much going in their favor.
Prediction: Spurs win in six games.