3. X-factor in this series?
Mayberry - Give me one of the sixth men. Reggie Jackson or Manu Ginobili. Neither team has an answer for the other, so whichever one can be most consistent should give his team a nice advantage.
Slater - Reggie Jackson. With Ibaka down, he’s now the third most talented player on this team. So he must to play like the third best player on a title contender. Consistently. And that’s the key word with Jackson. He’s dominant for stretches, then nonexistent for others. But he no longer has that luxury. It can’t just be flashes in this series. But good news for him: he torches San Antonio. Averaged 21.2 points on 68 percent shooting in four games. OKC needs that Reggie.
Carlson - Steven Adams. The rookie big man has been playing superb basketball in these playoffs, no small thing against Memphis and Los Angeles. Both have talented bigs, and Adams has more than held his own. If he can continue to play the way he has, it would be a huge boost to the Thunder. But if he has a bunch of rookie moments, you can bet Duncan and Co. will take advantage.
Tramel - Steven Adams. The cows are out of the barn. Steven Adams is going to play a ton. Unless Tim Duncan just flat out schools Adams, Adams will play more than Kendrick Perkins in this series. 25-30 minutes a game, I'd say. And he's getting so much better so quickly, there's no telling what kind of player Adams might be by series' end. OF course, he also could be completely flummoxed by the complexity of the Spurs' offense, so that's quite the X factor, I'd say.
4. How would you have predicted this series with Ibaka? Your prediction now?
Mayberry - With Ibaka, I was leaning toward the Spurs in seven but maybe six. Without him, I'm thinking the Spurs could take it in five but six at most. That's a pick that is more of a reflection of my concerns about the Thunder than it is of how much I think Ibaka matters (although he matters a ton). And to be clear, that's not to say it won't be a competitive series. I think it will be. But the first two rounds exposed some maturity issues with the Thunder that I thought were a thing of the past. The Thunder still plays with a lack of discipline on offense and a lack of focus on defense. Those things will get you beat by the Spurs every day of the week. And the loss of Ibaka is now a huge blow to the Thunder's biggest advantage over the Spurs – athleticism.
Slater - Before the injury, probably OKC in six. But without him, Spurs in seven. And it sounds so weird picking against the team with the two best players in the series. But the Ibaka injury matters that much. A crippling blow to OKC’s defense. Here’s Austin Rivers earlier this season on Serge: “He’s fast enough to keep up with guards. When you have a 7-foot guy who can jump, running on a fastbreak on defense, it’s hard to get to the basket. Their defense is all on him. Without Ibaka, this is a whole different team.”
Carlson - With Serge, Thunder in 6. Without Serge, I’m still going to go Thunder in 6. Maybe I’m foolish for thinking this, but I still believe the Thunder is an extremely difficult matchup for the Spurs. And truth be told, if Ibaka’s injury forces the Thunder to go small more often, that might actually be more difficult for the Spurs. Going small, after all, means going younger, and those young legs are tough for the Spurs to counter.
Tramel - I liked the Thunder rather easily with Ibaka. Probably five games. It's just such a good matchup for the Thunder. Without him, things change. The Spurs have an easier path to the basket, the Thunder pick'n pop game is suspect, everything changes. But the Thunder's main advantages remain. Speed and youth. And it's not like the Thunder is a bunch of pups. They are young, but they are experienced. I'll take OKC in six.