The San Antonio Spurs lost all four of their regular-season games to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but a suspenseful, hard-fought series would be no surprise in their clash for the Western Conference title.
While Oklahoma City owns bragging rights from those head-to-head meetings, San Antonio owns the rings, having won four NBA titles in the career of forward Tim Duncan and fallen just shy in last year’s seven-game NBA Finals to the Miami Heat.
The ball-sharing flow of the top-seeded Spurs will again be tested against the Thunder’s one-two knockout punch of league-MVP Durant and dynamic guard Russell Westbrook when the teams start their series tomorrow in San Antonio.
Durant won his fourth NBA scoring title this season with a career-high 32-point average, while the speedy, high-leaping Westbrook averaged 21.8 points to give opponents fits.
Oklahoma City is hungry for victory and another chance at the NBA title after falling in five games to the Heat in the 2012 Finals.
The Spurs, meanwhile, deploy a deep bench to keep core veterans such as Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili fresh and to keep pressure on the opposition with their motion and ball movement.
San Antonio posted a 62-20 record, three games better in the standings than Oklahoma City, who lost Westbrook for almost half the season after knee injuries.
An impressive six Spurs averaged double figures this season.
Highly respected coach Gregg Popovich juggles a lineup with a distinctly international flavour that, besides Parker of France and Argentina’s Ginobili, includes Mario Belinelli of Italy, Frenchman Boris Diaw, Australian guard Patty Mills and Brazilian Tiago Splitter.
Injuries could sway the balance. Parker, critical to the Spurs’ attack, left Wednesday’s second-round clincher over Portland early in the second quarter with a strained left hamstring. Last year, a strained hamstring limited him in San Antonio’s agonisingly close bid for the NBA title against Miami.
The Thunder have a bigger concern, since power forward Serge Ibaka is set to miss the rest of the play-offs with a calf injury.
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