Follow along with all of your picks at NBABracketology.com. See how your bracket stacks up against Matt and Pat.
Our ECF preview will be up soon. Now on to the West:
Thunder at Spurs
Matt: The Spurs are on FI-YAH.
Let’s go to Professor Wayne Winston, author of Mathletics and expert on fire:
During the playoffs Spurs (after adjusting for strength of opponents) have played 21.7 ppg better than average and Thunder have played 12.5 ppg better than average. Spurs also have home court so I think Spurs are a pretty sure lock to win in 5 or 6. (waynewinston.com)
But the Spurs haven’t just recently come upon this hot streak like the Celtics had entering the playoffs before struggling to surpass the Hawks and going seven games with the 76ers. The Spurs finished 2nd in the NBA in efficiency differential, a point better than the Thunder, and again have home court.
What will separate these teams on the court? Both have excellent wings and guards. While I personally think Serge Ibaka is the best big in the series, the next three or four best are probably all on the Spurs with Duncan, Splitter, Diaw, Bonner. And right next to the court is probably the biggest difference of all: I doubt anyone will disagree that Greg Popovich gives the Spurs a strategic advantage every night.
Pat: The Oklahoma City Thunder are one year more experienced and ready to make the next step and reach the NBA Finals. They have to go through the NBA’s hottest team San Antonio and do not have home court advantage in the series so the Thunder will have to play their best basketball of the year. On the other hand, the Thunder are the best team the Spurs will have to face so far in the playoffs as well. If Russell Westbrook can play Tony Parker to a draw and James Harden can do the same with Manu Ginobili, it leaves Kevin Durant to make up any difference that Tim Duncan provides. The Thunder can throw some good defenders on Duncan, but the Spurs in return don’t have an answer for Durant. Tim Duncan isn’t used to playing big minutes so far in the playoffs, and the Thunder may force that issue and negate some of San Antonio’s depth. The Thunder have Ibaka and Perkins to protect the rim which should allow them to guard the three point line closer (Spurs leading all playoff teams in 3 point makes percentage) knowing that they have help on penetration. At the end of the day, the Thunder will be banking on the thought that stars > depth in the playoffs and the Thunder’s big three is more explosive than the Spurs big three.