The Western Conference finals have been decided after the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games. They will meet the red hot San Antonio Spurs who haven't lost a match in over a month. This should be a great series. Two teams who love to run and gun and have weapons who on any given night could steal a game from their opposition. There are some great match-ups on show and I can't wait for it to begin. I think I recall ESPN Australia are going to be showing all Eastern and Western Conference final games live. This is great for basketball fans in our country. Hopefully it leads to one day bringing over NBA TV so we can stop flogging our internet usage meter.
I'm going to go through the match-ups and who I think comes out on top in each. I'd love to hear what you all think.
Point Guard: Tony Parker v Russell Westbrook
I believe Tony is going to win this match-up quite comfortably. I can't wait too see how Rusty goes when he matches up against a guard who can play. In the first two series he has had an old Jason Kidd and then Ramon Sessions (I can't believe I even referred to Sessions in my blog). The big question mark I have is if Westbrook will have learned from previous years when he has struggled. I don't think he will. The reason I say this because he has been given a massive confidence boost playing against the muppets in the first two series. If he had tough opponents in the first two series it may have gotten him ready for the big show. Tony Parker on the other hand is a seasoned veteran when it comes to the Western Conference finals. In addition to that he has had to battle with Chris Paul (even though injured he is miles ahead of Kidd and Sessions) over the 4 games. It will have gotten him ready for this contest much more than Rusty.
VERDICT : Tony Parker goes about his business much better and wins this match-up.
Shooting Guard: Daniel Green v Thabo Sefolosha
How good is Danny Green going this season? He is going to have a much tougher time this series with the much longer Thabo. His speed could trouble Sefolosha which could mean James Harden sees more minutes than usual. If Green can average double digits in this series it will help the team dramatically. Thabo has been struggling with his shot over the last two series and will need to hit his corner three ball to help the big three with the scoring. He is going to need to regain the trust of KD and Rusty, otherwise Spurs will leave him alone and have a bigger focus on the big three.
VERDICT: Green has been a star this season and I can't see this changing. Thabo's inability to keep up with Green may be good for the Thunder as Harden will see much more time. Green takes this one for me.
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard v Kevin Durant
We all know what KD is capable of. He is one of, if not the most, lethal scorers in the NBA at the moment. He will have his hands full though with Leonard. This kid is going to be a superstar. In his rookie year for the Spurs he has been a shining light. His hustle and determination alone is unseen in most NBA franchises. Even though he is only averaging 24 minutes, it's what he brings in those 24 minutes that is so impressive. I don't think you could play that hard for 48 minutes. He is going to have to stay out of foul trouble while trying to make KD's life tough. I think he can make Durant play defence a hell of a lot more that Metta World Peace did. That could play a part in Durant's ability to last the 48. Could Leonard be the X-Factor that gets the Spurs through?
VERDICT: You can't go past KD in this one. The bloke is just too good. Leonard has to make Durant fight for every point on both ends of the floor.
Power Forward: Boris Diaw v Serge Ibaka
I'm really looking forward to this one. Both of these guys can hit their jump shots when left open which could be a lot in this series. On the offensive side I have to give it to Diaw. I think he can bring Ibaka out of the paint which will let Parker do his thing. If Ibaka comes out to guard Diaw he has the drive to get by Serge. His width could also be troubling. This could force Kendrick Perkins to guard Diaw. On the other end of the floor however Ibaka shines. His ability to block shots could be worrying for the Spurs. Parker gets alot of his points close to the basket, Diaw is going to have to hit his shots to force Serge outside the painted area.
VERDICT: If I had a gun to my head I'd pick Ibaka as he could potentially stop Parker from getting his easy baskets. However, if Diaw is hitting his shots Ibaka could become a non factor.
Centre: Tim Duncan v Kendrick Perkins
Duncan has found a new lease of life this season. It maybe because he has so many talented youngsters surrounding him, who knows but whatever it is it's working. I can Perkins trying to muscle Duncan around like he has done with Bynum. I think Duncan has too many veteran tricks when it comes to not allowing himself to be fronted. When Duncan gets the ball either in the post or in his favourite spot just off it, I don't see Perks being able to stop his bank shot or his slick post moves. It was easy for him with Bynum as he could just body him up or front him. He will be dead tired after a few minutes and Nick Collison could be called upon alot more. On the other end Duncan won't have to do too much work guarding Perks. If Perkins can find a way to slow down the rejuvenated game of Timmy D it could be the key to the Thunder going through to the NBA finals.
VERDICT: Duncan wins this and gives Scotty Brooks nightmares with who to put on him.
Sixth Man: Manu Ginobili v James Harden
Two of the best players in the league to come off the bench and change the game for their respective teams. They're both left handed which causes trouble for opposition defences but will now go toe to toe. It's never going to let the series have a dull moment. These guys are massive in letting the key players have a breather. They are the rock in the second unit. If they aren't playing well it could see the game slip into the opponents hands. These two rarely let that happen. I personally think Manu is on another level, I think Harden will reach this level in a couple of years. The Spurs have many guys they can throw on Harden to upset his game. It's how he reacts to this will be a big factor in them winning or losing.
VERDICT: I believe Manu's smarts and ability to hit big time shots and make big time plays are what gets him this match-up.
This is an easy one for me. The Spurs have had the deepest bench in the league all season long. They all have playoff experience and have played plenty of minutes throughout the playoffs. I can't say the same about the Thunder. Nick Collison and Derek Fischer are all they really have. I'd much prefer a 10 man deep bench then an 8. Foul trouble could kill the thunder in this series.
VERDICT: Spurs, not even close for me.
COACH: Gregg Popovich v Scott Brooks
The Master vs The Apprentice. Pop has shown he is more than capable of dealing with his star studded roster this season and in the playoffs. He will have no problem in this series. The big question I have with Scotty Brooks is his ability to take control of Rusty. Will he be able to pull him aside when the going gets tough and tell him to get the ball to Durant and Harden? I don't think so.
There are plenty of great match-ups but I think the Spurs take this one in Six. The Spurs play their guys for not as many minutes as the Thunder do and that will be the telling tale as the series gets deeper.
I can't wait for the series to begin. I believe the winner of this takes the Championship out, unless they take each other out and have no players left for the finals!