Thursday night features the big Western conference match-up and a possible Western conference finals preview. The San Antonio Spurs travel to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that could decide the final standings in the West. Oklahoma City will probably need to win this game if they want to make up the 1.5 games they are behind San Antonio right now.
The Spurs currently lead the head-to-head 2-1, but the home side has won the match-up in all three instances. They bounced back from defeats against the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies with a victory over the Orlando Magic. Meanwhile, the Thunder have actually played pretty good basketball lately winning four of their past five games.
San Antonio won the game against Orlando on Wednesday night despite playing without Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard ad DeJaun Blair should all be in the line-up tonight. Tim Duncan may or may not play against Oklahoma City after only playing 10 minutes in the win over the Magic.
There’s little doubt that the Spurs haven’t quite been playing as good basketball of late. Manu Ginobili has been sidelined an they clearly miss his offensive spark. Duncan is a crucial part of the defense and Parker has been up and down ever since his long-term injury. Still, Danny Green is shooting brilliantly, Leonard has been playing strong ball and Tiago Splitter is still there in the middle. San Antonio have played tough defense, especially on Kevin Durant, which puts the pressure on Russell Westbrook.
The pieces are most certainly still here for Oklahoma City. There remains a lot of speculation about whether this team can be the real deal without James Harden and those questions are only going to become more heightened as the 2013 NBA playoffs get started. However, when this team is rolling they have a set of dangerous players led by Durant and Westbrook, and including Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka.
Martin might just be the key in this match-up. Durant averages by far his fewest points per game against any team against the Spurs. Gregg Popovich gets his team to play extremely tough defense on Durant. Westbrook is still a hot and cold player, and so Martin shooting well when needed will be vital to pick up the scoring slack.
If Duncan misses out on this game, then Ibaka’s game could just be a little easier. He knocked down 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds for the Thunder in their home victory against the Spurs back in December and Ibaka playing a consistently strong inside game remains pretty important to any success that Oklahoma City hopes to achieve.
Betting Preview: Oklahoma City (-7) vs. San Antonio
Oklahoma City have had longer to rest for this game, they are healthier and they are playing good basketball. This is an extremely important game for this team. The Thunder have a real chance to pick up the top seed in the Western conference. This is a team that needs to get basketball and emotional momentum built up heading into the playoffs. They also need to deal with their inconsistencies and San Antonio is a good place to start.
Popvich’s Spurs look like they are ready for the playoffs to start and I can’t see them winning this game. However, I do think San Antonio will be healthy and will have a little extra determination in this match-up. They may not win, but the spread really favors them in this match-up.
The Pick: Spurs (+7) [Bet Online]
Writer Record Against the Spread: 9-3