Oklahoma City will find out what life is like without James Harden Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs, the team they ousted in last season’s Western Conference Finals.
The defending Western Conference champs couldn’t come to terms with the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and decided to ship him out to the Houston Rockets Saturday rather than let trade speculation erode the squad’s chemistry.
No doubt the Thunder will miss Harden’s production, but they do have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to fall back on.
Durant begins his sixth season in the NBA, and could go for his fourth straight scoring title, but it’s been well documented how tough the team’s loss to the Miami Heat in last season’s Finals was on the All-Star.
Westbrook made his first All-Star team last season, and is expected to only get better, and the Thunder did extend center Serge Ibaka’s contract in the offseason, keeping most of their core together.
Oklahoma City begins its conference title defense against the team they are most often compared to, the Spurs.
San Antonio has won a minimum of 50 games each season since 2000, and all that success is due to future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.
Duncan was a free agent over the summer, but there was little doubt he would leave the franchise he’s guided to four NBA championships.
Once again he led the Spurs to a 99-95 win over the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night, spoiling rookie Anthony Davis’ pro debut.
Duncan posted 24 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks, looking like the power forward of 10 years ago, and point guard Tony Parker chipped in 23 points.
The Hornets were ahead several times throughout the game, as it looked like the Spurs missed star shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who was out with back spasms. But Parker nailed a three-pointer with 49.6 seconds remaining and San Antonio had the game in hand.
San Antonio will turn to second-year forward Kawahi Leonard more this season, who had a stellar rookie campaign last year, and scored 19 points with seven rebounds and snatched a game-high five steals against New Orleans.
Ginobili’s injury aside, the Spurs did look weak at the 3-point line, only going 6-for-20, when shooting behind the arc was one of their greatest strengths last season.
Prediction: Durant and Westbrook should be re-energized after capurting gold in the London Olympics, and will be on a tear throughout the season after their loss in the Finals. The Spurs will be overwhelmed by Oklahoma City's youth and will lose big.
Predicted Score: Oklahoma City 110, San Antonio 92