Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Who do you consider better at full strength, the Spurs or Thunder? Who will win the West?
Steve Aschburner: San Antonio is the better team at full strength, but that’s becoming elusive for the Spurs in spite of coach Gregg Popovich‘s, um, roster maintenance. Manu Ginobili is so helpful to them in multiple ways, particularly late in close games, which explains some of their recent W-L churning. Will they win the West? Yes, as far as regular season goes. Maybe, by the end of the West playoffs, if the Spurs’ Big 3 all can play at least five games of every series.
Fran Blinebury: At full strength, I’ll take the Spurs. They still have one of the top offenses in the league, but have improved significantly at the defensive end. I still have questions about how much OKC will miss James Harden as the Thunder get deep into the playoffs. However, the key phrase is “at full strength” and with the aging Spurs relying so heavily on Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili that will be the question that hovers. Can they hold up over two months to play in The Finals?
Jeff Caplan: I hope these teams meet again in the West finals so we can find out. I love the Spurs at full strength. They’re like watching one of those teaching fundamentals videos. Everyone knows exactly where they should be and what they should be doing. Their precision is remarkable. Offensively they do it all — penetrate, postup and knock down the 3-ball. Defensively, they’re improved over last season. As for OKC, the loss of Harden has put the ball in the hands of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook even more, and that’s not a bad thing. They have a solid supporting cast that knows their roles. I just wonder if they have enough scoring options if Durant or Westbrook have an off-night. Kevin Martin is the X-factor. Throughout the season, when he’s involved, hitting shots at a high percentage and scoring in double figures, OKC is almost impossible to beat. So who do I consider better at full strength? It’s so hard to bet against Pop and the Spurs, but KD and Westbrook are just too fast, too athletic and too explosive, and that’s why they’re better and will win the West again.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The Thunder. Their defense is a little better than San Antonio and their rebounding is better. Plus, that athleticism is a dimension few teams, if any, can match. The main concern about OKC is the turnover problem that has dragged into a second full season as title hopefuls with no solution.
John Schuhmann: The Spurs are my pick. Overall, they’ve been the slightly better defensive team, their starting lineup has been much better defensively than OKC’s starters, and they’ve defended the Thunder’s No. 2 offense well in two of the three meetings so far. Manu Ginobili’s health (and eventual effectiveness) is obviously a concern, but it’s been a concern all season, and they’ve managed to put together the West’s best record with him having a down year. The changes that the teams went through since last year’s conference finals — the Spurs improving defensively and the Thunder swapping James Harden for Kevin Martin — favor San Antonio. So I’m picking the Spurs … as long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are healthy.
Sekou Smith: We’ve seen the Thunder at full strength or something close to it all season. And they are still a step behind the Spurs, who haven’t had a fully healthy cast all season long. The Spurs are obviously a bit longer in the tooth, but they have complementary players like Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard who are superior to the Thunder’s complementary players. When your stars cancel each other out, the measurement undoubtedly comes down to whose supporting cast can carry the day. And the Spurs win in that regard. Toss in the fact that Gregg Popovich is calling the shots on that Spurs bench and he’s probably still smarting from that Western Conference finals exit at the hands of the Thunder last year, I’m going with the deeper and more complete team (aka San Antonio) to win the West this year.