Entering the NBA postseason it was apparent the Miami Heat was once again the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The Western Conference is the exact opposite, however, especially since Russell Westbrook was injured, putting Oklahoma City’s chances at returning to the NBA Finals in jeopardy.
While the Thunder still has Kevin Durant at the helm, it lost its dynamic point guard and has been reduced to a one-man show. It’s going to take more than that to get through the West, and because of that, I’m taking the San Antonio Spurs to be the team to lose to the Heat this year.
Had Westbrook not been hurt, there’s no way the Spurs could advance to the NBA Finals. But without him, the Thunder will rely on Reggie Jackson to keep OKC at the same offensively dangerous squad.
Jackson performed well in game four of OKC’s series against Houston in his first start this postseason, but the Thunder were clearly lacking that killer mentality Westbrook displays so often when driving to the rim.
I bet the Thunder wish it hadn’t traded away James Harden now that it is once again in need of a scoring partner to complement Durant.
Injuries aside, that trade made sense, but without Westbrook, OKC lacks the scoring capabilities to defeat the Spurs.
San Antonio keeps defying the odds of time, compiling the second-best record in the West with the aging trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
The difference maker for the Spurs this postseason will be Parker.
If the Spurs and Thunder square off in the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio will clearly have the edge at the point guard position with Tony Parker running circles around Reggie Jackson.
Unless Jackson comes up with some major performances this postseason, OKC may not have the capability to beat the winner of the Clippers/Grizzlies, let alone the Spurs.
Postseason experience is still on the side of the Spurs and with a core group of veterans to go along with some impressive young players including Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, San Antonio has the tools necessary to take down a shorthanded Thunder squad.
OKC and San Antonio split the four games they played this season with Westbrook averaging 24 points and 7 assists in the regular season. The Thunder needed every bit of his contribution against the Spurs, and with Reggie Jackson unlikely to match Westbrook’s production level on both ends of the floor, it looks unlikely OKC will return to the finals if it faces off against San Antonio.
At this point in the postseason, San Antonio seems like the favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals not because they are the best team, but because they are the healthiest at this point in the season.
That seemed like an unlikely statement only weeks ago. It goes to show just how unpredictable the NBA postseason can be.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of May 1st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mingchen Shen of the Daily Nexus.