Tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder roll across the Texas border and into San Antonio to take on the Spurs.
If there’s anyone caught that Garth Brooks reference, thank you.
Both the Thunder and the Spurs find a way to fill the void when impact players are absent, when guys are down — players step up.
Reggie Jackson was the capable co-pilot that kept the ship afloat in Russell Westbrook’s absence, he’s one of the unsung sailors of the Thunder’s success this season. Jackson is using the experience attained playing in 70 games last season to maximize production in 17 minutes per game on the floor this year, averaging 18 points and 5 assists per game.
The Thunder are undefeated at home (13-0) but are 8-4 outside of Oklahoma City this season. They’ve been the team we expected them to be since Westbrook’s return. They’re 14-1 in their last 15 games, and Westbrook averages 20 points per game in 14 of these contests.
Kevin Durant has been everything we’ve expected, before, and since the return of Westbrook. The average “Durantula” line in the Thunder’s previous 15-games? 29-9-5. If the season ended today and if I had a say in who receives the Most Valuable Player award (I don’t), Durant is without-a-doubt the guy I’d vote for.
But the Spurs don’t expect an MVP performance from one player on a nightly basis, they’re the cohesive unit that’s represented by Gregg Popovich and it’s become impossible to hate this team. Believe me, growing up a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns, this is the last team I’d like to give any credit, but they’ve earned it.
After going 16-4 to start the season San Antonio is 5-1 in previous six games, including a win over the Golden State Warriors without the help of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to do so. Only Parker, however, was sidelined because of legitimate injury and the league doesn’t like fans not being able to see the Spurs’ stars. But Coach Popovich doesn’t care.
“How smart do you have to be to rest guys that are older than dirt?” Popovich said. “Everybody has a different kind of team. I know my team. We’ve been doing this for years. We’ve been saving minutes for Timmy and Manu since the day they got here, and I think it’s prolonged their careers.
When it’s not the Spurs, “Big-3,” Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard and Marco Belinelli are called on to uphold San Antonio’s reputation of excellence we’ve seen time-and-time again throughout the regular season.
With Leonard, not only is the 22 year old from Los Angeles expected to lockdown the opponent’s most prolific scorer — he’s expected to produce points, too. Leonard has started 25 of 26 games for the Spurs and is shooting over 50 percent fromt the field this season. He’s also averaging 15-and-a-half points per game, the highest of his career. Although Leonard is ‘supposed to’ emerge into one of the league’s most elite perimeter players, he’s not playing bad basketball thus far this year.
Belinelli, well, he’s been up and down throughout the year and has made a few headlines off-the-court, but, the Italian Stallion (Editor may kill me for that one. Ed note: I’ll allow it) scored 28 points a few days back in the Spurs’ win over the Warriors.
The Spurs are, again, methodically en route to boast home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, again. However; things have slowed down since opening the season, particularly defensivly. San Antonio is allowing 99 points per game in the recent six-game stretch — that’s an average of 10ppg higher than the Spurs allowed through the first 10 games to start the season.
Between each of the core of each team, or the young supporting cast eager to fill the void of a star’s absence — the Thunder and the Spurs are both staples of the Western Conference. They’re the obvious choice for the Game of the Night.
National TV: None
Local TV: FSOK (Thunder) | KENS (Spurs) | Or Check League Pass
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET