The San Antonio Spurs must bounce back from their disappointing 136-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Friday night and prepare for the ultimate battle in the Western Conference as they collide with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.
San Antonio is only one game ahead of Oklahoma City in the West standings and will need to win in order to keep pace. Considering the Thunder are on a five-game winning streak and have won eight of their last nine contests, they do not appear to be slowing down as they are playing their best basketball at the right time of the season.
The Spurs have also been on a tear over the past two months, but getting dominated by the Trail Blazers like they did can be damaging to the team’s psyche.
One thing for certain: when these two teams go head-to-head at the AT&T Center, it is going to be a high-scoring affair. Oklahoma City ranks second in the league in points per game (106.7) while San Antonio is fourth in the NBA, averaging 104.8 per contest. Both teams are also good defensively, with the Spurs getting a slight edge in this category as they hold opponents to an average of 96.2 points per game.
The Spurs understand it is not going to be easy to get the win, but they are also up for the challenge of facing one of the top teams in the league this late in the season to see where they stack up.
“[It's a] great test for us, hopefully we do much better,” Manu Ginobili said, according to FoxNews.com. “It’s gonna be one of those games where you really gotta be close to perfect to win, so hopefully we are. Kevin Durant is shooting great, scoring like always. Russell Westbrook is so fast and gets you off-guard in transition with his speed. They got a great system going, great flow and an enormous amount of talent.”
Obviously, there is no way to completely shut down Durant or Westbrook, but the only way to defeat the Thunder is to slow them down. It’s easier said than done, though — if San Antonio really wants to slow down Oklahoma City, they will have to dig deeper than that.
The Thunder’s 39.0 percent 3-point field goal percentage ranks second in the league. During their current five-game win streak, they have shot 40.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is something that has given them a serious edge in their victories.
The Spurs are not bad themselves, as they have made 38.2 percent of their shots from 3-point range this season, and they can use this to try to keep pace during the game. However, what would be better is if they can prevent the shot attempts all together.
San Antonio ranks second in the NBA when it comes to defending the 3-point shot, as they have only allowed opponents to convert 33.2 percent from behind the arc. The best offensive and defensive 3-point teams colliding is one of the main storylines going into the game, and whoever does a better job could very well come out ahead.
If the Spurs can challenge every 3-point attempt, something they are very good at, then it will force the Thunder to put the ball on the court. Even though Durant, Westbrook and others typically have an easy time driving to the basket, San Antonio will have a better chance of winning if they take a large part of Oklahoma City’s offense away from them.
The Spurs can also use their home court as an advantage, as they have defeated the Thunder 15 of their last 18 meetings in San Antonio.