Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) pumps his fist in front of Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace, right, after hitting a basket in the third quarter of Game 5 in their NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal playoff series, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
NBA: Thunder face West’s best in climb toward top
NBA » OKC must get past a Spurs team on 18-game win streak.
First Published May 22 2012 12:35 pm • Last Updated May 24 2012 01:04 pm

Oklahoma City • The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t found any shortcuts as they try to climb to the top of the Western Conference.

The Thunder’s path through the postseason lined up so their first three opponents have been the only three teams to win the West since 1998.

At a glance

Western finals schedule

All games on TNT

Sunday » Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday » Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 7 p.m.

May 31 » San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.

June 2 » San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m.

x-June 4 » Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 7 p.m.

x-June 6 » San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.

x-June 8 » Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 7 p.m.

x-if necessary

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

It started with the Dallas Mavericks, who were trying to defend their NBA title. Next up was the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won five championships since 2000. In the Western Conference finals, the Thunder will now face the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs.

If the franchise can reach the NBA finals for the first time since losing to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1996 as the Seattle SuperSonics, it will be after getting through the cream of the crop out West.

"You go over the last few years, and it’s been the usual suspects at the top and it’s been that way for a reason," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said, pondering how L.A. could get back to the top after getting eliminated by the Thunder.

Oklahoma City is well on its way to cementing a spot among the West’s elite, improving each season since winning only 23 games after relocating from Seattle in 2008.

"We’re not thinking about the history of the last Western Conference champions," said Oklahoma City backup center Nazr Mohammed, himself a veteran of the Spurs’ 2005 championship team.

"All we’re thinking about is San Antonio and what needs to be done."

The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio, with both teams getting the better part of a week of down time to prepare. Both teams took Tuesday off after Oklahoma City finished off a five-game series against the Lakers with a 106-90 victory on Monday night.

The Spurs completed their second straight playoff sweep by beating the L.A. Clippers on Sunday and have won 18 games in a row.

story continues below
story continues below

"We are proud of that," San Antonio sixth man Manu Ginobili said. "It’s not easy to accomplish, but who cares? But now we’re going to face in the conference finals against a very rough, skilled opponent."

Each team has a speedy, All-Star point guard — San Antonio’s Tony Parker against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. Each has a crafty, left-handed sixth man — the Spurs’ Ginobili and the Thunder’s James Harden.

And each has a reserved superstar, Tim Duncan against Kevin Durant. Both offenses can be deadly on the pick and roll.

"They’re tough. They have a good point guard who’s very good in the pick and roll, they have a whole bunch of shooters and obviously a great big man," Harden said. "These next four days are going to be key. We have to lock in and focus.

"The series switches from the Lakers being a big, physical team to the Spurs with shooters and running the pick and roll very well. We’re going to have to change our mentality a little bit, but I think we’re ready for it."

Both teams raced through the first round in sweeps, then did well to manage extended waits while their second-round opponents were finishing off seven-game series. The aging Spurs, who got the top seed despite practically giving away a couple of games by resting all their top players, have made the most of their rest all season long.

"This team is good at taking care of our bodies. We will have some good practices where we can stay in shape and everybody is just focused on doing this the right way," Ginobili said.

The Spurs won the season series 2-1 despite playing all three games without Ginobili, and they raced past Oklahoma City in the final month of the season to claim home-court advantage in the series.

All three meetings were played before roster moves around the trade deadline for both teams, with the Thunder bringing in veteran guard Derek Fisher while San Antonio added Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw.

"The only games they lost is when Pop took all of their guys out," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

After stumbling just enough down the stretch to fall out of the Western Conference lead, the Thunder have been back on their game in the playoffs while cutting down significantly on their league-worst 16.3 turnovers per game. In the postseason, they’re averaging an NBA-best 10.7 giveaways.

"We’re in a groove right now," Harden said. "Guys are playing at their peak and we’re playing at another level as far as not turning the ball over, our defensive mindset and on offense moving the ball."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.