For the third time in five seasons, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will square off in the NBA Playoffs when their Western Conference semi-final series starts on Saturday.
Annual tradition dictates that we should openly wonder if the venerable but aged Spurs will reach an end of a line should they exit. But it really, truly, definitely is a staging post in the history of the Thunder. With victory would come hope. With defeat, however, an outpouring of uncertainty, panic, and perhaps change.
Because even if OKC were to advance, then that is a sign of progress being made. A reversal to the Spurs could suggest to free agent-to-be Kevin Durant that this is a franchise that might never deliver the championship he craves.
Which adds an intriguing sub-plot to everything Oklahoma City do from this point onward. And if chemistry, not talent, remains their primary fault line, then there’s never been a better moment for his team-mates to show KD that his future belongs where he currently resides.
OKC could be great. It’s just the small details that sell them short. That one pass too few before Russell Westbrook hoists a three. That shot Serge Ibaka takes when an open colleague was begging for a look. Those frequent flourishes when a mass disconnect occurs and you wonder what difference bringing in Billy Donovan as coach really made.
Who could blame Durant for looking enviously at the Spurs if they progress at the Thunder’s expense and wondering if he’d rather plug himself into that kind of ecosystem despite one Finals and two Conference Finals trips in Oklahoma?
And make no mistake. San Antonio will weigh up an entry into the KD sweepstakes. Another piece in their rejuvenation. A perk of the increased TV cash that will bring him within budget.
The defensively-superior Spurs, with homecourt advantage, are 1.32 to take the series with their rivals out at 3.50. With the Golden State Warriors praying for the quick return of Steph Curry, San Antonio have also dropped to 2.75 for the title.
And although the Westbrook-Durant punch is impossible to avoid, the Spurs strength in depth and the smothering attention of Kawhi Leonard should see them through. And then, we’ll surely ask, what next for KD?
Best bet: Go under 197.5 total points in Game 1 of Spurs-Thunder at 2.35.
Indiana- Toronto (Raptors lead 3-2)
The Pacers blew Game 4 when it was in their hands. DeMar DeRozan had to finally step up. But back in Indiana, will we see jittery Toronto again or the polished version?
Best bet: Go under 193.5 total points at 2.00
Charlotte – Miami (Hornets lead 3-2)
The Hornets have won three straight behind some stinging defense that’s limited the Heat to 84.3 points in those defeats. On the road again, Miami are in danger of running out of steam.
Best bet: Go under 187.5 total points at 2.30
Portland – LA Clippers (Trail Blazers lead 3-2)
Broken and baffled without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, you have to feel for the Clips. Portland won’t be in a merciful mood.
Best bet: Take Portland at -7.5 at 1.59