2012 NBA Playoffs Update

Almost already onto the Conference Championship stage, the most dominant teams come from the West.  The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder each are playing like they are on a mission.  Not only are they outplaying their opponents when it matters the most, but their team work and hard work is unparalleled to any other team left in the playoffs.  Between the two teams, they have lost a total of one game.  The Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and currently lead the series against the Lakers 3-1.  The San Antonio Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, and then swept the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.  The fact that the Western Conference is so competitive is what makes the dominance of these two teams so amazing.  Teams like the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Lakers and Clippers are all tough to face.

An argument can be made that the San Antonio Spurs are the frontrunners to win the championship.  Unlike the Thunder, who rely too much on jump shots and fast break points, the Spurs have been getting easy points in the paint and finding open perimeter shots as well.  Veterans like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan also serve as valuable pieces to have.  As fans know, in addition to talent, it is important to have experience on a championship team.  Until the series between the Lakers and the Thunder is determined, the Spurs will be relaxing and scouting out their potential opponents.  Thus far, the Spurs have made it all look too easy.  Looking to the future, despite the fact that Oklahoma City has been dominating their part of the bracket as well, it is probably safe to say that a Los Angeles Lakers team would be more of a challenge for the Spurs.  This is because the Spurs defense is well-trained and knows how to handle and guard against offenses that rely on perimeter shots.  With that said, it will take a strong post game to defeat the Spurs and prevent them from winning it all.  The Lakers have a legitimate post game, with Pao Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but their guards have not been able to knock down the open shots that they are being gifted with.  If the Lakers want to forge a comeback and beat the Thunder, and then have a chance at advancing to the Finals, they will have to make the open jump shots.

Assuming that the Thunder win the series and end up facing the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, there are a few things in their offensive regime that they will have to tweak.  First and foremost, they will have to establish a presence in the post with Perkins and Ibaka.  If those two are able to have success in the form of layups, dunks and rebounds, then open shots will be created for their lethal outside scorers.  Judging the team by their series with the Lakers, they simply have shown that they have more heart and determination to win a championship.  Unfortunately, they have not distinguished themselves as the more dominant and aggressive team.  Considering the Spurs are an aggressive, consistent, and suffocating team when it comes to their execution on both ends of the floor, the Thunder will have to change their ways.  Contrarily and fortunately, the Thunder have the league’s scoring champion on their side.  Kevin Durant has proven over the course of his blossoming career that he has the ability to create any type of shot against any defender.  The continued success of the Thunder will rely on the performance of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins down low, as well as the production of Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

If the Spurs and Thunder meet, it will be interesting to see if the Thunder can manage their way past the meticulous and well-thought out game plan of Greg Popovich.  It is my hypothesis that the Spurs’ talent, experience, coaching regimes, length and aggression will prove to be too much for any NBA team to handle.  At the beginning of the season, I would never have entertained the thought of the Spurs making it past the second round.  Their GM deserves praise for surrounding the wise veterans with youthful players who possess talent and high basketball IQ.  The team has developed into a power house.  The determination of Durant may be enough to defeat this giant, but doubt creeps into my mind at the thought of it.  Even more important than talent and energy to winning a championship is experience and mentorship.  The Spurs have the perfect balance of mentors, youth, and experience.  It is too difficult to bet against them at this point in the season, considering what they have been able to do.