Thunder Road To Finals Is Clearing

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HANG TIME, Texas — There were just over two minutes gone in the fourth quarter when the door seemed to swing open, the red carpet rolled out and Kevin Durant was all but ushered down an empty aisle through the San Antonio defense for a slam dunk that practically screamed out.

It’s still our house and it’s still our Western Conference.

Maybe more than ever. As the days dwindle in the regular season, the inevitable rematch in The Finals with Miami seems more, well, inevitable.

It’s been more than two months now since anyone has looked capable of taking down the defending champion Heat. But it’s been thought all season that the West half of the bracket was going to be a minefield fraught with peril.

When Tony Parker limped up and down the court and finally had to be removed from the game Thursday night by coach Gregg Popovich, the path became clearer for the Thunder. It not only enabled OKC to finish off a 100-88 win and essentially take over the top spot in the conference, but could show the cracks that could eventually crumble highly successful regular season for the Spurs.

There had been a sense for much of the season that the Spurs were a more complete, more capable all-around team than the Thunder this season. That was in part due to the absence of James Harden in OKC and the development of the Spurs supporting cast of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green.

But San Antonio is still a wheel that turns around the aging Big Three axis and Manu Ginobili is already sidelined for the start of the playoffs with a strained hamstring. If Parker’s problem (ankle? shin?) can’t be solved in short time, the Spurs could have problems in the first two rounds, let alone a conference finals showdown with the Thunder.

At the same time, a Nuggets team that has already lost its blasting cap in Ty Lawson to a torn plantar fascia in his right heel sees Danilo Gallinari go down with what could be a torn ACL in his left knee.

Yes, George Karl was the Western Conference Coach of the Month in March and will certainly manipulate his lineup to keep it from jumping completely off the track. But the beauty and the effectiveness of the Nuggets all season long has been the fitting together of so many different pieces to excel in a league usually built around individual stars. Take away one piece and you’ve got a challenge. Take away two and the entire structure begins to teeter.

Despite ringing up their first 50-win season in franchise history, the Clippers have fallen from grace since their 25-6 start. Whether it’s Vinny Del Negro’s coaching, Blake Griffin’s moodiness, DeAndre Jordan’s immaturity or Chris Paul’s carping at his teammates, there is unrest in Lob City and less a sense that the Clippers are a championship contender.

There is no reason to believe the Warriors, Rockets or Jazz are capable challengers. Even if the Lakers were to hang onto the No. 8 spot, does anyone have faith that this uneven, turmoil-filled season will suddenly take a path straight up for six or eight weeks once the playoffs begin?

That leaves the rock ‘em, sock ‘em get, get-up-in-your-face Grizzlies as perhaps the only solid, healthy challengers to the reigning Western Conference champs. If you think back two years ago to the contentious seven-game series between Memphis and OKC, there is most definitely potential for the Thunder to be tested.

But what was supposed to be round after round of roadblocks and difficult obstacles is starting to clear out like Durant’s path to the basket for a slam dunk.

19 Comments

  1. ball is square says:

    oh oh i forgot, either DEN or MEM will be probably eliminated in the first round, cuz they will be facing LAC. LAC, DEN, MEM will be racing for the No. 3, 4, 5 spot in the standings, and the No. 4 will face the No. 5. If LAC will win, they will be facing the SPURS or OKC in the 2nd round.

  2. ball is square says:

    Read NBA Playoffs/Finals at Wikipedia. then u will know that the no. 1 team in the standings didn’t always win a ring.. That’s y i will say, don’t underestimate the teams at the bottom of the playoff standings.

    @ West, OKC, SPURS, CLIPS, DEN, MEM are possible team to face off in the West finals. Lakers may exist if they can gain the no. 8 spot. But probably, OKC vs CLIPS in West Finals. The only problem in LAC is the coach.

    @ East. 99%, Miami will win in the East, not just the record but because of their rosters. But 1% for other teams may exists, and that’s wat we call LUCKINESS.

    I’m hoping, MIA VS LAC in NBA Finals.

  3. lakerfan says:

    if the lakers can get in the play off..don’t underestimate them..play off is different!!

  4. realmusiq says:

    I’m hesitant to put this out in the open, but doesn’t it seem advantageous considering the 8th seed is still one of the most talented teams in the league for the Spurs to almost willfully forfeit the 1st seed for an considerably easier 1st and 2nd round. I’m not saying that the Spurs would throw the game, but they are aware of the playoff picture as well.. If the 1st seed was more beneficial for the Spurs they would be more focused to maintain the pole position. Harden is not Kobe, and Howard is primed for a redeeming playoff run, even if Kobe is whipping him across the finish line. Nuggets or Warriors seem like a win win for the second round for the Spurs. Much more favorable than either Clippers or Grizzles who will most likely tear Thunder’s interior defense a new rear end. If Thunder can overcome two extended physical rounds, they may be more focused, but most likely exhausted from the rockier of two paths to the WCF.

    Final Thought
    Spurs play Chess, not Checkers.

    Brains over Brawns

    • MJfromOKC says:

      In the last game vs Grizzlies our bigs dominated theirs. Watch the game. It happens often.

  5. realmusiq says:

    I’m hesitant to put this out in the open, but doesn’t it seem advantageous considering the 8th seed is still one of the most talented teams in the league for the Spurs to almost willfully forfeit the 1st seed for an considerably easier 1st and 2nd round. I’m not saying that the Spurs would throw the game, but they are aware of the playoff picture as well.. If the 1st seed was more beneficial for the Spurs they would be more focused to maintain the pole position. Harden is not Kobe, and Howard is primed for a redeeming playoff run, even if Kobe is whipping him across the finish line. Nuggets or Warriors seem like a win win for the second round for the Spurs. Much more favorable than either Clippers or Grizzles who will most likely tear Thunder’s interior defense a new rear end. If Thunder can overcome two extended physical rounds, they may be more focused, but most likely exhausted from the rockier of two paths to the WCF.

    Final Thought
    Spurs play Chess, not Checkers.

    Brains over Brawns

    • Kir says:

      True this :-). Pop is equivalent to 20 Brooks

    • Be Realistic says:

      They probably should try to get the #1 seed because I would rather face the Jazz than Rockets… Just saying, the Jazz are in 8th. Rockets will make the Spurs work for it.

  6. Cre says:

    Doesn’t matter what the Thunder does they can’t beat the Miami Heat. I’m a Lakers fan, now if the Lakers don’t make Finals this year I def want a team capable of beating Miami to go to the Finals (I hate the Heat). Let the Spurs take care of them this is much bigger than OKC’s ego trip. You can win another year when Westbrook is done trying to be Batman- not your team buddy.

    • RussISbatman!!!!!!!!!!!!! says:

      @CRE Russell is unstoppable. If KD wasn’t on our team you would be praising him instead of bashing. Why is Drose so famous? Is he not just a slower less talented less tough version of WESTBROOK? OKC is not on an ego trip they are on a best team in the west trip. Sorry your lakers are a big non factor these days but it is what it is.

    • edgardo says:

      @cre the lakers are not making the finals even if they make it to the playoffs there is just too many good teams out there that are better than the lakers. Grizzly, thunder, etc heck even the warriors are a better team. and the lakers have the weakest bench.

  7. jake s. says:

    What a lot of people don’t think about is that Harden was an extra point guard. Sure his play making ability was awesome, but he choked during the finals. Thunder simply don’t need him to beat San Antonio or Miami. Sure some people would argue that without him, Thunder wouldn’t have made the finals. This may be true, but the Thunder are better this year in every category WITHOUT James Harden. There is no doubt it will be close, but just because Harden is gone does not mean the Thunder will just be over run. History has never seen a player like Kevin Durant. History has never seen a player like Russel Westbrook. James Harden is good, but when it comes crunch time, HE will be the one missing THEM.

  8. amitpal says:

    I dont think grizzly will do good against thunder. They just dont match up well against them. Grizzlies best strength is there big men. Thunder best defensive strength is there big man who probably do the best job in thr leagur at guarding the post.

  9. JJ says:

    you guys write off the spurs so quickly but isnt this the same team that was up 2-0 last wcf and looked certain to advance to the finals? If tony parker is healthy spurs are the better team.. plain and simple. No harden = no finals

    • Chris says:

      yeah but there’s no guarantee Parker will be healthy. Manu may not be back until round 2. I haven’t completely written them off, I’ve loved the Spurs since Robinson, but the thunder are a great team, and without their key pieces Spurs are going to have a tough time, especially considering if they hit second seed they’ll be playing against a team fronted by the guy that killed them in the WCF in just the first round. :( Still I’m rooting for the Spurs till its all said and done

  10. Jim says:

    This is just bad luck,when everyone expected the west to be a battle royale suddenly each team is struck down with injuries or chemistry issues or both.

  11. Chris says:

    Basketball is not scripted but if OKC face Miami in the finals again my money is on Miami. I only see the Grizzlies, or Spurs doing some damage in the finals. Thunder better pray the pacers or knicks get lucky

  12. i did wut says:

    Agreed. I think that Denver is out because of its injuries and SA is out as well because of Manu and Parker. Thunders vs Grizzlies is a good series though.

    • lastcaress says:

      I still think writing off the Nuggets is a bad move. Frankly I’m not sure with how bad K-Mart is playing the Thunder can deal with the Grizzlies D. It’s odd having such a good 6th man and still think he is playing bad; spoiled by Harden for sure. Just hope we can beat his team in the first round if the seeding sticks.