NBA Playoffs 2012: 5 Reasons Thunder, Not Spurs Should Be Title Favorites
Admittedly, the prospect of the San Antonio Spurs capturing one more title in the twilight of Tim Duncan's career is a pretty appealing storyline.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have no interest in becoming a footnote in the Spurs' history book, however. To paraphrase Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City is looking to make some history of its own.
Led by Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Thunder are finally poised to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy this June. And even though the San Antonio faithful might disagree, their neighbors to the north are far better equipped to do so than the hometown Spurs.
So as the NBA Western Conference Finals start to heat up, here are five reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder (and not the Spurs) should be title favorites this season.
A Better "Big 3"
Simply put, the Oklahoma City trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is better than San Antonio's three-man unit of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
All three of the Thunder players are markedly younger than their Spurs counterparts, and each is a more prolific scorer than the man each will mark on the opposing team. Durant, Westbrook and Harden combined to average 68.8 PPG this season, while Duncan, Parker and Ginobili only accounted for 46.4 points per game.
Playoff series are usually won by the team with the better players, and Oklahoma City has a definite advantage in that department.
Kevin Durant might be the most unguardable player in the entire NBA. Too quick for power forwards and too long for small forwards, the 6'9" Durant is able to get his shot off whenever and wherever he wants.
The former Longhorns standout is averaging nearly 27 points per game in this postseason so far, and Gregg Popovich will need to be very creative with his defensive schemes over the next week or so if he has any chance of keeping the NBA's leading scorer in check.
If the Thunder were to make it to the NBA Finals, Durant could theoretically be defended by Miami's LeBron James. And while James is athletic enough to give Durant problems, the amount of energy James expends on defense will take away from Miami's effectiveness on the offensive end.
The Thunder, meanwhile, had to knock off the defending champion Dallas Mavericks as well as a determined Los Angeles Lakers squad. Oklahoma City has had to work a bit harder for its wins and, as a result, is more battle-hardened at this point than the Spurs.
If Oklahoma City captures the Western Conference crown, it'll be fair more prepared than San Antonio to face the winner of the Miami-Boston matchup.
The Age Factor
After a grueling NBA season, the string of countless back-to-backs is finally starting to take its toll on players' bodies. But as the youngest team left in the postseason, the Thunder has a distinct advantage over everyone else.
While at least one star on the other three teams missed significant time this year due to injury, Oklahoma City rolled through its schedule with relative ease. There were no DNPs on the Thunder due to age, nor where there any as part of a maintenance plan. So even with 70-plus games in five games under its belt, Oklahoma City is a remarkably healthy unit at this stage in the race.
No team left in the playoffs can match the sheer physicality of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka looks as if he was carved out of pure granite, and Kendrick Perkins is one of the more intimidating figures in the entire NBA.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Gary Neal can match up with Oklahoma City to an extent, but neither the Miami Heat nor the Boston Celtics has the manpower to deal with Ibaka and Perkins on the interior.
More often than not, the team that wins the rebounding battle wins the game, and the Thunder have a clear edge in that department thanks to their two skilled big men.