When it comes to the Spurs, folks are fixated on one number these days.
That's how many consecutive games the Spurs have won.
So, as the Thunder prepares to face them in the Western Conference Finals, it seems like the Spurs have everything going in their favor. Momentum. Confidence. Tenacity. Sure, the Thunder has played well during the playoffs but not nearly as well as the Spurs.
Is there reason to believe the Thunder can actually beat these guys?
I'd say there are plenty of reasons.
Eighteen to be exact.
1. Kevin Durant: Never a bad place to start, right? He scored 20-plus points in each of the Thunder's three regular-season games against the Spurs. Shot a combined 46.8 percent in those games, too.
And I suspect everyone can agree that KD is playing at a higher level now than he ever was in the regular season. The guy is averaging 28.0 points in the playoffs and shooting nearly 50 percent.
Oh, he also has three game-winners in the playoffs.
That is a career's worth of playoff game-winners for most players, but KD has done it in only nine games. Captain Clutch has more than earned his superhero cape this postseason.
2. The Peake: Winning a playoff game in Oklahoma City will be tough for any team.
3. Kendrick Perkins: Did you see how Perk negated Andrew Bynum in the last round? Any reason to think he won't be able to play pretty good defense on Tim Duncan, too?
4. Russell Westbrook's offense: He is playing like a veteran on the offensive end. During the playoffs, he is averaging 24.1 points a game while shooting 47.2 percent. Amazing numbers.
5. Russell Westbrook's defense: He is playing like a honey badger on the defensive end.
6. Turnovers: The Thunder committed more turnovers than any other team in the association during the regular season. In the playoffs? It has committed the fewest — 10.7 a game.
Sure, neither the Mavs nor the Lakers were pressure-defense teams, but there were plenty of games during the regular season when the Thunder would commit 10 or 12 unforced turnovers.
This is a big-time improvement.
7. Serge Ibaka's help-side defense: No one comes from out of nowhere to make a play at the rim better than Serge. He can get a running start, time his leap and block a shot that seemed destined for the bottom of the net.
That the Spurs love to drive to the basket plays right into his strength.
8. Manu Ginobili's struggles: The Spurs' super sub hasn't been all that super in the playoffs. He is shooting 26.3 percent from the floor and even worse from behind the 3-point line, 25.7 percent.
His confidence level?
“Not the best it's been,” he admitted to the San Antonio media the other day.
9. Style of wins: The Thunder has won every which way in these playoffs. Blowouts. Nailbiters. Grinders. Track meets. That builds confidence.
10. Come-from-behind wins: A year after being faulted for not being able to hold leads late in playoff games, the Thunder is now the team coming from behind. That builds confidence.
11. Close-call wins: Four of the Thunder's eight playoff wins have been by three points or less. These guys haven't wilted under pressure. That builds confidence.
12. James Harden: Fear The Beard.
13. No Elbow Drama: Even though Ron Artest's elbow to Harden's head happened during the regular season, it changed the way the Thunder-Lakers playoff series was played. The officials called the games tighter than they would've otherwise, and frankly, it was hard to blame them for trying to keep emotions under control.
Now that that's over and done with, expect physical play to be more a part of this series.
14. Thabo Sefolosha: He didn't stop Kobe, but then, no one truly stops Kobe. Chasing around Danny Green won't be quite as difficult.
15. Matt Bonner: Yes, the Spur's 3-point specialist can be an assassin, but he can also be a liability. The Thunder can exploit his, um, plodding style.
16. Derek Fisher: I don't know where his veteran leadership or his clutch shooting is going to come into play, but I know it will somewhere.
17. Young legs: Even though the Spurs' old legs are in great shape, I'd take young legs over old ones any day.
18. Defensive rebounding: The Thunder did a fantastic job of keeping the Lakers' dominant duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum off the offensive glass. That limited second-chance points and boosted fast-break opportunities.
Do the same against the Spurs, and it plays to the Thunder's speed and athleticism in transition.
Listen, there is no doubt the Thunder is facing a big challenge against the Spurs, but you know what? The Spurs are facing a big challenge, too. The Thunder can beat them. The Thunder can win this series.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that.