OKC Thunder: Five questions for the Western Conference Finals

What has changed since the Spurs and Thunder last met? That's one of the questions facing the teams as they prepare to start the series.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 22, 2012

For the second straight season, the Oklahoma City Thunder will play in the Western Conference Finals.

This time, after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the semifinals, the Thunder will face San Antonio in a best-of-seven series to decide which team will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

The Thunder lost the regular-season series with the Spurs two games to one. That record, coupled with the Spurs' incredible 18 straight wins, has raised plenty of questions about how this series will take shape. In time, answers will be revealed.

Game 1 is Sunday night.

Meanwhile, here are five preliminary questions facing both teams as they prepare to start this series.

What's changed since they last met?

The Spurs upgraded their roster through midseason additions. They added swingman Stephen Jackson in a trade that sent Richard Jefferson to Golden State and inked free agent forward Boris Diaw and guard Patty Mills.

The Thunder, on the other hand, brought in Derek Fisher.

Additionally, the Spurs welcomed back crafty guard Manu Ginobili, who missed all three meetings with the Thunder due to injury/rest. Since the Spurs' last meeting with the Thunder, Ginobili has averaged 12.6 points in 28 games, 27 of which he came off the bench. San Antonio also replaced DeJuan Blair in the starting lineup with Diaw and handed the reserve minutes to Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter. The additions have made the Spurs deeper and even more dangerous because of their improved versatility.

Who will guard Kevin Durant?

Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard will get the start defensively on Durant. In the regular season, Leonard actually did a decent job on Durant — and the reigning three-time scoring champ still averaged 22.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Those averages might seem impressive, but Durant's scoring average against San Antonio was his lowest against any opponent he faced more than once this season.

Jackson is expected to come off the bench and be thrown at Durant as well. Between Leonard and Jackson, the Spurs have an athletic and physical duo that possesses ample strength and length to make Durant work to get his points. But after watching how Durant annihilated Metta World Peace and the Lakers, there may no longer be a defender on the planet who can cover him.

Has the Thunder kicked its turnover problem?

By now, you're well aware that the Thunder led the league in turnovers at 16.3 per game during the regular season. Against the Lakers, though, Oklahoma City averaged just nine turnovers in the five-game series, which helped contribute to the Thunder's playoff-low average of 10.7 turnovers.

But given the fact that the Lakers were the worst team in the league in the regular season at forcing turnovers, there is reason to question whether the Thunder's ball security is now a real or perceived strength. San Antonio was only marginally better than the Lakers at forcing turnovers in the regular season, so it's possible that the Thunder can continue its impressive ball security.

But the Thunder averaged 14.3 turnovers against the Spurs, so it could go either way. The best news for the Thunder is Durant (2.8) and Westbrook (1.0), who were the second- and third-worst players, respectively, in turnovers during the regular season, both saw a drastic cut in their turnovers against the Lakers.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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