Some ‘experts’ favor Spurs over Thunder


A look at the Western Conference semifinal series between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder (with regular-season and playoff records):

No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (67-15, 4-0) vs. No. 3 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (55-27, 4-1)

Season series: Tied, 2-2. The Thunder beat the Spurs in the season opener for both teams and they didn’t meet again until March, when both teams were headed toward rest mode. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all missed the Thunder’s 111-92 victory on March 26 — Leonard was the only one actually hurt with a bruised right quad — while Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all sat out the Spurs’ overtime victory on April 12. Durant and Westbrook both averaged 27 points in three games, while Leonard had 28 per game in his three appearances.

Story line: Two of the West’s best continue their recent tradition of meeting every other year in the playoffs. The Thunder stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference finals, before San Antonio prevailed in six games two years later in the same round en route to their fifth NBA championship.

Key Matchup I: Leonard vs. Durant. The Thunder have one of the world’s best offensive players in Durant, and the Spurs have one of the few players who can guard him in Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Durant averaged 26 points in the first round against Dallas but shot only 37 percent, weighed down by his career-worst, 7-for-33 performance in a Game 2 loss. Leonard is capable of forcing anyone into a night like that, and he’s also become a tremendous offensive player, averaging 21.5 points on 53 percent shooting in San Antonio’s sweep of Memphis.

X-Factor: Tim Duncan. He’d likely have a smaller role in a presumed Western Conference final matchup with speedy Golden State, but the Spurs need him now to get there. His first series as a 40-year-old comes against the Thunder’s big man trio of Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams that destroyed the Mavericks. All three shot 62 percent or better — Kanter’s 70.7 percentage is second in the postseason — and dominated the backboards.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

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