TNT analyst Steve Kerr, who covered the NCAA Final Four for Turner Sports/CBS, turns his attention to the NBA playoffs, which begin this weekend. Kerr, a former NBA guard and general manager for the Phoenix Suns, discussed the Thunder’s prospects in a phone conversation Tuesday.
Who would be a better first-round matchup for the Thunder, the Grizzlies or the Mavericks?
I would rather play the Mavs, even though Dallas has given Oklahoma City some trouble. Memphis just scares me because of their inside power. You rarely see that in the NBA these days, even one low-post guy, much less two. And I feel like Memphis, once (Marc) Gasol came back, has been whole. They are much better team this year than they were last year, despite the eighth seed (heading into Wednesday’s home game with Dallas) because Mike Miller and Courtney Lee have given them a lot more floor spacing and shooting. They are tougher to guard. My guess is both Oklahoma City and San Antonio would prefer to avoid Memphis.
What are your concerns with the Thunder heading into the playoffs?
Well, I guess the biggest concern is which team is going to show up. Watching them last week against the Clippers in L.A. was kind of a reminder — oh, yeah, these are guys are really good. They are so athletic and when they are healthy, which they appear to be now, their defense goes to a different level. They fly to the ball and force turnovers. But they have their ups and downs, both with health and consistency. I would like to think these last couple of games is because they have had nothing to play for. You want to see them put together a real solid stretch in the first round to sort of re-establish their championship quality.
What has the addition of Caron Butler meant to the team?
He has been a good addition. He is a veteran guy. He is a good teammate. Good shooter. Good size. There is a lot to like about Caron. It’s pushed Jeremy Lamb a little bit out of the rotation, but that’s OK. He is still a young guy that has a way to go.
Will anyone derail the Thunder on the way to the Western Conference finals?
I’d be shocked if Oklahoma City lost in the first round, even if they played Memphis. I just think with (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant healthy, I would fully expect them to win and I would expect them to beat the Clippers, assuming they play them in the second round. What I am really interested in, is if they were to meet San Antonio, the rematch of two years ago. What was different then is that James Harden was around. The Spurs were in control in that series and Oklahoma City got loose and they just rolled the Spurs, but a lot of that was Harden, who was really good in that series. Kind of big picture-wise looking ahead, can they beat the Spurs and Miami, the top teams in the league without the Harden component?
Who do you like in a Thunder-Spurs series?
We’re doing the West finals, TNT is. I don’t subscribe to that theory if you’re doing the game, you shouldn’t make any predictions. Who cares? People are going to hate me regardless. Whether it’s Kendrick Perkins or a fan, somebody is going to disagree with something I say. I am going to predict the Spurs will get out of the West. They have been the best team, obviously record-wise. To me, Kawhi Leonard is the key guy for them. They have a lot of talent and different parts that are all very important. They went 10-2 without Tony Parker. Their record without Kawhi Leonard is nowhere near as good. I think Kawhi is equipped as anybody to at least give Kevin Durant some problems, not that he is going to hold him to a low number of points, but just make him work. As long as he’s there, I give the Spurs a slight edge.
In the East, the top-seed Pacers have struggled lately. Will they make the conference finals?
Two months ago, I would have bet my life on it. I think Miami will be there, but I think the winner of Chicago and Brooklyn will beat Indiana in the second round, assuming that matchup happens. I like the way both teams play defense and the way Indiana has struggled offensively and the way they have looked the last month, it is hard to predict that they would beat either one of those teams.