It doesn't get much better than this.
On Monday, March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to play the San Antonio Spurs. This is a rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Finals and could be a preview of this year's showdown.
So who's going to win?
The Thunder are winners of five straight games and eight of their past nine. The Spurs, meanwhile, are coming off of a 136-106 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Spurs haven't lost two consecutive home games since March 31, 2011. The last time they did, their first of two losses came against the Trail Blazers.
Will history repeat itself?
Time: Monday, March 11, at 8:30 p.m. EDT
TV: NBA TV
Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (47-16) at San Antonio Spurs (48-15)
Betting Line: Thunder (+2.5) at Spurs (-2.5)
Oklahoma City Thunder's Injury Report
San Antonio Spurs' Injury Report
Tony Parker, Sprained Left Ankle, Out
Key Storyline: Winner Leads the West
When the San Antonio Spurs host the Oklahoma City Thunder, we all expect it to be a battle of the Western Conference's elite. What we may not have expected, however, is how much is at stake.
The winner of this game will sit atop the Western Conference postseason standings.
The Spurs had a tight grip on the top spot for a majority of the season. Unfortunately, Tony Parker's untimely injury has left the team with lackluster results.
With OKC surging, San Antonio now holds a one-game lead—something that could be erased when the Spurs host the Thunder.
This game could potentially shape the playoff picture, as neither team appears likely to lose many games from here on out. More importantly, this could be a preview of the Western Conference Finals.
If that turns out to be the case, home-court advantage could be on the line.
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Cory Joseph
In the San Antonio Spurs' most recent game, Cory Joseph played 27 minutes. In that time, he tallied 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals on 5-of-8 shooting.
Unfortunately, Joseph was also tasked with defending Damian Lillard—the rookie who finished with 35 points and nine assists in a 136-106 Portland Trail Blazers win.
Up next for Joseph is All-Star and world-class playmaker Russell Westbrook. Although Manu Ginobili will help with this task, Joseph must step up to contain the offensive dynamo that Westbrook has proven to be.
If he fails to, we could see another tough loss.
In that same breath, Westbrook must play a responsible game to down the Spurs. While the positional advantage is undeniable, Westbrook cannot get locked into a one-on-one game in which he forces looks.
If that transpires, the Thunder will quickly learn how explosive the Spurs can be—with or without Tony Parker.
X-Factor: Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs
In the four games prior to the San Antonio Spurs' most recent loss, Tiago Splitter was averaging 9.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.5 minutes. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Splitter put up nine points and three rebounds in 26 minutes.
If the Spurs are to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder, they'll need Splitter to step it up.
Tim Duncan will neutralize Serge Ibaka by matching and, most likely, exceeding his production. When it comes to Splitter, however, he cannot afford to produce at a similarly low level to Kendrick Perkins.
He must flirt with or achieve a double-double.
If Splitter is able to do such, the Spurs will control the pace of this game. In turn, they'll have a legitimate chance at achieving a shorthanded victory over the Thunder.
If not, they will be forced to rely heavily upon the outside shot—a formula for disaster against OKC.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the hotter team, but the San Antonio Spurs are the team that has experienced more consistent success. Without Tony Parker, however, the Spurs become the weaker team.
Just not on their home court.
The Spurs are 25-4 at home during the 2012-13 season. The Spurs haven't lost two consecutive home games since March 31, 2011.
A stretch of nearly two years.
Coincidentally, that streak began with a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. That, of course, is the team who last beat them in San Antonio.
Don't expect history to repeat itself—not when Gregg Popovich is the coach in this one.
Kevin Durant will catch fire and Russell Westbrook will carve out a double-double. To counter them, however, Tim Duncan will continue his MVP campaign and receive an abundance of support from beyond the arc.
It won't be easy, but neither is winning in San Antonio as a road team—Spurs take this one.
San Antonio Spurs 99, Oklahoma City Thunder 94
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