To be honest I'm only writing this as a way to vent over Charles Barkley's comments about OKC being the team to beat in the West.
To be fair, I can see his point. They are an offensive powerhouse with a dynamic one-two punch in Westbrook and Durant. Their center is the renown Serge Ibaka who can easily manage 5 blocks a night if he maintained a strong defensive mind set. Then you have the emergence of up and coming stars like Jeremy Lamb and Adams. With a strong defensive guard by the name of Sefolosha. They also rank in the top ten among the lead in Offensive Efficiency.
Here's the jest of things though. In a seven game series could the Thunder beat the Spurs or Blazers? To answer this let's look at some key points from last year and the current season.
During the playoffs last year when Russel Westbrook went down you saw a very glaring problem with OKC's game. Without him they just weren't the same team and had to lead too heavily on Durant to win a series. Granted they took out Houston but that was a group that for the most part had been playing barely .500+ for the season. On top of that the group at hand had never met each other in the play offs before. It was a new experience for them and yet still the Rockets gave the Thunder a few scares before finally being eliminated.
They were then swept by the Grizzlies in the second round.
The fact of the matter is even with how incredibly potent the Thunder can be on the offense and defensive end if Durant of Westbrook go down this team is fighting to even stay at .500.
Okc has a strong starting 5 but if even one of them go down, as is the case with Portland, they were have a severe drop off in efficiency.
Moving on to the comparisons: The Spurs.
No team in the league is playing as refined basketball as the Spurs are currently. Popovich always has his team at their finest no matter how old they grow. They are continuously challenging every team in the league and will do so until Pop retires.
The biggest difference between the Spurs and Thunder is the fact that the Spurs have such a refined playing style that it means if they lose one or two of their starting line up there are still competent bench players that can help stop the bleeding until they make their returns. For example, this was made very clear last year when the Spurs and Heat were playing and Pop rested 3 of his players (as most of us know he was fined for doing so). The Spurs gave the Heat a fight even without those 3 players in the line up. This was the Heat team that went on to battle the same Spurs in a 7-game series.
The Thunder may have the fire power but they do not have the chemistry, experience, or the savviness of one Greg Poppivch. The Spurs have a very obvious edge against the noisy Thunder. In a seven game series, Spurs win 4-3.
Onto Portland! As is the case for the Thunder, the Blazers have a very powerful starting line up with the addition of Robin Lopez. With the addition of Robin the Blazers have become a team fighting for the 8-seed to a team that's currently leading the West, 20-4.
The Blazers are one of the funnest teams to watch in the league right now due to their chemistry and how well their entire offense comes together (huge props to Stotts for being the offensive genius that he is). The Blazers bench is far better than last year and it shows. Their defense in crucial moments is just awe inspiring and as they grind more exp in the easy east, you can see how special a team this truly is.
Aldridge is playing out of his mind and averaging 24 pts, 10 rbs this season. He has come through time and again in his mvp-caliber season. He has went from Lamarsha to Labeast in 3 short seasons.
It is not perfect, however. The Blazers rely heavily on jump shots and also on a nightly basis are dominated in points in the paint. Their most potent weapon is the 3 pointer and when it's not falling you can see how much the Blazers struggle. The question for the Blazers is if they can maintain this pace or not. I personally believe they cannot maintain it for 82 games but I don't think that that means they drop fall out of the playoffs.
Against the Spurs, nobody in the West has a better record against them than the Blazers. That does not however mean they can without a doubt win a series against San Antonio. The Spurs are one of the deepest teams in the league and prove night in and night out that they're not going anywhere despite their age. In a seven game series against the Blazers, it's hard to choose. But this year...because of the lack of playoff experience...I see the Spurs winning the series 4-2. Depth and experience would prove fatal against the Spurs.
Against the Thunder however, it would be one of the greatest playoff series in this current season. It would be like the Pacers-Heat match up. Alot of intensity. In a seven game series this year, I honestly give the edge to Portland. 4-3. The Blazers with a healthy unit can take advantage of the Thunders handicaps (mostly those coming from younger plays like Lamb and Adams being relied on too heavily in a seven game series). So long as both teams are healthy, the Blazers have the edge against the Dynamic Duo that is the Thunder.
If the Spurs, Blazers, or Thunder meet in the playoffs, (it's unlikely that one won't see the other at some point) then you can look forward to one of the best series you have ever seen.
As far as the edge in the Regular Season..here are my thoughts on the Top 4 Western Conference teams at the end of the year.
1. Spurs (58-24)
2. Blazers (54-28)
3. Thunder (53-29)
4. Rockets/Clippers. (Rockets: 50-32. Clippers 50-32)
If you have any thoughts, please do comment. I would love to hear some feedback on this post.
A final thought: GO TRAILBLAZERS!