Sports: NBA West Finals: Spurs or Thunder?
There’ll be no Los Angeles team in the Western Conference finals, not even in the National Basketball Association championships after both the Lakers and the Clippers were ousted in the semifinals by the West’s top playoff ballclubs-top seeded San Antonio and No. 2 Oklahoma City.
The Thunders are back in the conference finals for the second year in a row after dealing Kobe Bryant’s Tinseltown squad a bitter 106-90 thumping in Game 5 in Oklahoma City to end the series, 4-1, and face the still unscathed Spurs in the battle for Western Conference supremacy.
Of course, the winner between San Antonio and Oklahoma City (formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics) in the conference finale will get a shot at the 2011-12 Larry O’Brien Trophy last won by the Dallas Mavericks during the previous season over Miami against the Eastern Conference winner.
Earlier, the Spurs led by Tim Duncan and mentored by NBA Coach of the Year winner Gregg Popovich swept the Los Angeles Clippers to remain undefeated in the last 18 games (10 in the regular season) spiked by a 4-0 massacre of No. 8 Utah in the first round and highlighted by their masterful conquest of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s ‘Lob City’ squad.
San Antonio has won four NBA titles: in 1999, 2003, 2005 and in 2007. The Spurs are perfect in an NBA Finals and have won a total of 18 division titles since joining the league in 1976 from the American Basketball Association (ABA), then known as the Dallas/Texas Chaparrals (1967-71) and later as the Spurs (73-76).
Owned by businessman Peter Holt, the Spurs won the lockout-shortened 1999 and 2003 NBA seasons against New York and New Jersey, respectively, with veteran David Robinson and a young Tim Duncan leading the ballclub to those victories. When Robinson retired, Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker composed ‘The Big Three’ for the Spurs.
They won the 2005 NBA Finals against Detroit in Game 7 via an 81-74 victory at the Spurs’ home arena while in 2007, San Antonio swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their best-of-seven championship series to earn the franchise’ fourth NBA title in four tries for a perfect 4-of-4 batting average.
As for the young and energized Thunder of head coach Scott Brooks, the quintet will be aiming for its fourth conference title after winning the Western Conference plum in 1978, 1979 and 1996 (as the Sonics) including the 1979 Larry O’Brien Trophy which Seattle won over the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in five games.
Oklahoma City eliminated the Lakers in five games punctuated by that Game 5 demolition of a disorganized LA side of Coach Mike Brown as main man Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man of the Year winner James Harden connived to beat the visiting team at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to the delight of the hometown crowd.
Westbrook led the Thunder with 28 markers while Bryant was all by his lonesome on top of the Lakers scoring with 42 points in a losing cause. Your Sideline Spectator believes either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol or even both of LA’s top big men will be on the trading block following the team’s season debacle, a repeat of last year’s second-round demise.
Between the Spurs and the Thunder, San Antonio has the slight edge as the team protects its 18-game win run plus the homecourt advantage at the fabled AT & T Center in Texas. The Spurs are just eight games away from flirting with history as no NBA team has ever swept the postseason since time immemorial.
Duncan and company are 28-5 at home in winning 50 of 66 games this season while the Thunder are 21-12 on the road (47-19 win-loss record). San Antonio will rely on Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Parker, Ginobili and Duncan in scoring while for defense and rebounding, the team will have Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard to lean on.
As for the Thunder, Durant, Westbrook and Harden will anchor the Oklahoma City offense with reserves like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins ready to deliver for the ballclub at any given time.
Forecast: Spurs via sweep or Thunder in six, seven...*
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