With injuries to Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have an even better chance to reach the 2016 NBA Finals. After breezing through their respective first-round series, the two teams meet on Saturday in Game 1 with a spot in the Western Conference Finals on the line.
San Antonio is a pretty significant favorite with -300 odds via BetOnline. While the Golden State Warriors set a new record with 73-wins, the Spurs had an historic regular season of their own with a 67-15 record. They had the easiest time in the first round of any NBA team, sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies and winning by an average of 22 points per game.
Oklahoma City didn’t have much trouble with the Dallas Mavericks, winning in five games and securing each victory by double-digits, including two wins by at least 29 points. But the Thunder are being overlooked after a 55-win regular season in which four other teams had a better record. Oklahoma City has +250 odds to reach the conference finals.
The Spurs and Thunder split their four head-to-head meetings with the home team winning each contest. Oklahoma City opened the year with a six-point win over San Antonio, but lost by eight on March 12. The subsequent two games provide little insight into how the playoff series will unfold, with Oklahoma City blowing out San Antonion was without Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out, and the Spurs taking the season finale while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were rested.
San Antonio has proven to be better than Oklahoma City over 82 games, but the Thunder have a chance to outplay the Spurs over seven games because of their two stars. No NBA team—not even the Warriors—has a better one-two punch than the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook would both be legitimate MVP candidates if Stephen Curry wasn’t the clear choice, and they are good enough to carry Oklahoma City on a championship run.
Durant and Westbrook averaged a combined 51.7 points, 16.0 rebounds and 15.4 assists per game. Leonard and Aldridge, San Antonio’s top two players, totaled 39.2 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest.
The Spurs’ supporting cast, however, gives them an edge that the Thunder could have trouble overcoming. Parker and Duncan aren’t the players that they once were, but they play valuable roles for the team. Parker is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor as a point guard, and Duncan remains one of the best defensive big men in the NBA.
Leonard’s defense should be a big difference-maker in the series. He was named the Defensive Player of the Year for a second straight season, and Durant is well aware of the reasons why. Leonard, who might be the NBA’s most valuable player if not for Curry, limited Durant to just 6-19 shooting in the season opener.
The Thunder will challenge the Spurs, but stealing a road win presents a big challenge. San Antonio went 40-1 at home in the regular season, losing only to Golden State.
Series Prediction: San Antonio in seven
Game 1: at San Antonio, Saturday, April 30, TBD (TNT)
Game 2: at San Antonio, Monday, May 2, 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 3: at Oklahoma City, Friday, May 6, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 4: at Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 8, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 5: at San Antonio, Tuesday, May 10, TBA (TNT)
Game 6: at Oklahoma City, Thursday, May 12, TBA (ESPN)
Game 7: at San Antonio, Sunday, May 15, TBA (TNT)