I don’t know about you, but when Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose went down with that torn ACL late in Game 1 of Chicago’s first-round playoff series with Philadelphia, I immediately skipped ahead mentally toward the conference finals in terms of series I most wanted to see since Miami-Chicago was all but out: Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio. And with all due respect to the Heat, who have reclaimed the NBA title favorite role at 8/5 on Bovada, the Spurs and Thunder sure look like the two best teams going right now.
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San Antonio is on a ridiculous 18-game winning streak, having won those by average of 14 points per game. The Spurs blasted through Utah and the L.A. Clippers – winning six of the eight by double figures -- to become the fourth team under the current playoff format to sweep the first two rounds. However, the previous three all lost in the conference finals. The Spurs are going for their first West title since the 2006-07 season.
The Thunder, meanwhile, have won eight of their nine playoff games, and it was against much tougher competition: the reining champion Dallas Mavericks and then the L.A. Lakers. This is the Thunder’s second straight trip to the conference finals, but the franchise hasn’t reached the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan began his second threepeat with the Bulls with a six-game series win over Gary Payton’s Seattle SuperSonics.
Oklahoma City actually held the overall Western Conference lead for much of the season but the Spurs’ red-hot finish – winning 21 of their final 23 regular-season games – saw them pass the Thunder. Thus Game 1 of the West Finals is Sunday in San Antonio.
Thunder at Spurs Betting Story Lines
Injury-wise, both teams are in good shape since they have had so much time off in these playoffs with the quick finishes. The Spurs are as healthy in the postseason as they’ve been since their last title in 2007. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins has had some hip issues in the postseason, but he’s good to go.
These teams met three times in the regular season and I would caution you to take the results with a grain of salt because Spurs star Manu Ginobili missed all of them. On Jan. 8 in Oklahoma City, the Thunder won 108-96 as San Antonio’s other stars, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, combined for just 17 points. Kevin Durant had 21 for OKC. On Feb. 4 in Texas, the Spurs won, 107-96. Parker scorched Russell Westbrook that day with 42 points. Durant led the way for OKC with 22.
The most recent meeting was March 16 back in OKC, with the Spurs winning, 114-105. All five Spurs starters scored at least 16 points in that one, led by Parker’s 25. Westbrook actually outdueled Parker with 36. The winner easily covered in all three matchups and the ‘over’ also easily covered. No surprise, considering the Spurs ranked No. 2 in the NBA during the season in scoring and the Thunder No. 3.
One other thing to consider when looking at the regular-season results is that San Antonio is way better now since the last meeting with the Thunder. The Spurs upgraded by trading Richard Jefferson for swingman Stephen Jackson and also signed power forward Boris Diaw after he was waived by the Bobcats in late March. That Jefferson deal allowed Coach Gregg Popovich to insert rookie Kawhi Leonard into the starting lineup at small forward, and he has mostly thrived there.
Leonard likely will get the first call on Durant, but Jackson was acquired with an eye on helping to defend Durant in the playoffs as well. Diaw, meanwhile, has turned DeJuan Blair into a bit player during the postseason. But Popovich is all about matchups, so that could easily change. (By the way, isn’t funny that Diaw wasn’t good enough to play on the worst team in NBA history but the smart Spurs turned him into a valuable contributor on a title contender?)
OKC is doing one thing vastly better in the playoffs: protecting the ball. The Thunder led the NBA in turnovers during the regular season at a little more than 16 per game but have cut that to 10.7 per game in the postseason. During the regular season, the Thunder held San Antonio to just 48 percent shooting in the paint, well below its 61 percent season average. The Spurs were able to overcome that by making 51.9 percent of their three-pointers; they led the NBA in long-range shooting during the year.
Thunder at Spurs Betting Odds and Key Trends
San Antonio is a 5.5-point favorite for Game 1 with the total at 204 on NBA odds. On the series line, the Spurs are -210 with OKC at +175. The Spurs were 24-8-1 ATS at home during season and 16-17 ‘over/under’. In playoffs: 4-0 and 1-3. The Thunder were 18-15 ATS on road during season and 14-19 O/U. In playoffs: 3-0-1 and 3-1.
OKC is 4-0 ATS in its past four games on at least three days’ of rest. OKC is 4-1-1 ATS in its past six games after a win. The Spurs have covered an obscene 22 times in their past 27 home games overall. San Antonio is 5-0 ATS when its opponent scores at least 100 points in the previous game. The over is 4-0 in the past four meetings between these teams. San Antonio has covered seven of the past nine meetings.
NBA Playoff Picks: Thunder at Spurs Betting Predictions
The Spurs seemed to have Durant’s number in the regular season as he averaged 22.7 points, 46.8 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three-point range. Those are all quite a bit down from his season numbers. And Jackson’s energy off the bench should only help San Antonio cover Durant, although he has shot 54 percent from the field in his last seven games.
As good as the Spurs have looked this is probably their last hurrah. The Thunder, meanwhile, appear to have years of contention ahead of them barring a major injury. And it seems an up-and-coming team advances incrementally each year in the playoffs. Three years ago, the Thunder lost in six games in the conference quarterfinals to the Lakers. Last year, they advanced to the conference finals, losing in five games to Dallas. Thus I think the next step is obvious (and it helps that Derek Fisher is there to be a mentor this year): an NBA Finals berth. Take the over and the Thunder to cover Game 1 – think Spurs actually win a very close game – as well as on the series line in what looks like a seven-game classic.
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