The pending showdown between Thunder guard James Harden and San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has captivated many, including Harden himself.
The players are mirror images in many ways — both left-handed; both shooting guards and terrific playmakers; both set-shooters on open 3-pointers; both game-changers; both Sixth Man of the Year award winners (Harden this season and Ginobili in 2007-08).
In an odd way, it would be like Harden defending himself.
"We're similar players," Harden said. "I notice his moves and the way he's so crafty and things like. So I'm at least kind of familiar with how I can guard him."
Ginobili did not play in the three regular-season games against the Thunder, meaning Harden last faced Ginobili two seasons ago.
How much better of a defender has Harden become since then? Harden chuckled to imply there's no comparison.
"Every day, it's a grind," Harden said. "It (my defense) is getting better. Going against Kevin (Durant) and Russell (Westbrook) every single day has definitely gotten me a lot better."
When casually observing the Spurs during the regular season and not trying to dissect them piece by piece, what is it about them that most impresses Thunder coach Scott Brooks?
"Their passing really jumps out at you because they spread you out so much and their spacing is outstanding," Brooks said. "They seem to always have guys in the right spots, deep in the corners, in the wing and they have a big rolling hard (toward the basket). They make you guard them and they make you guard all five players.
"It seems like nearly everybody on that team is shooting 40 percent or above form the 3-point line. That's unheard of."
San Antonio is shooting 42.3 percent from 3-point range in the postseason, by far the best in the league. During the regular season, the Spurs shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range, which also led the NBA.
Having played for the Spurs in 2005-06, Thunder reserve center Nazr Mohammed is a former teammate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili, but he also was teammates with recent San Antonio acquisitions Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw while with the Charlotte Bobcats.
"It's been a long time, but I still have a connection to those guys," Mohammed said. "I still talk to Tony. I talked to Tim a couple times this summer when he worked out with us (in Austin, Texas). When we see each other, it's always a reunion."
BRAGGIN' ON BORIS
Diaw was waived by the last-place Bobcats on March 21 and scooped up two days later by the always thrifty Spurs.
Diaw went from being a part-time starter for the worst team in NBA history (in terms of winning percentage) to being starter on the team with the best record that's unbeaten (8-0) in playoffs.
Mohammed said he is not surprised Diaw became a starter with the Spurs.
"Boris has heard his whole life that if he really wanted to, he could have been one of the top five power forwards in his era," Mohammed said. "It's his personality. Boris is a real laid-back, kind of funny, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Just kind of like, 'Hey, whatever, whatever.' But skill-wise, he's off the charts. He's one of the best passers.
"I first played with Boris in Atlanta (2003-04) when he first came into the league. We played him at point guard. That says a lot. He was a (6-foot-8) point guard when he stepped in this league. Boris could fit in on any team. He just has those type of skills. Once his teammates see him, everyone is always kind of like, 'Dang, this guy can play, this guy can pass, this guy can knock down open shots.' I love Boris' game. I've got a lot of respect for it."
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka did not practice Friday because of flu-like symptoms, but is expected back for Saturday morning's practice. … The Thunder will practice Saturday at 11 a.m. and fly to San Antonio in the afternoon. … The Thunder had roughly an hour of court time Friday after an extended film session. "Court time wasn't long, but the practice was good. It was high intensity, a lot of guys really committing to getting after each other," Brooks said. … A USA Today online poll question asked "Who wins the NBA title?" The results: Spurs (36 percent); Thunder (26 percent); Heat (26 percent); Celtics (8 percent); Sixers (4 percent).
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on the Thunder trying to contain Durant and the Thunder's offense: "They've got a lot of gifted guys. He (Durant) is not the only one who scores. So there are a lot of problems one has to deal with."