The two best teams in the NBA this year were the Golden State Warriors (73-9) and San Antonio Spurs (67-15), who combined to go 140-24 (.854). Thus, it may seem a foregone conclusion that these two teams will meet in the Western Conference Finals.
Not so fast.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) had the fifth-best record in basketball, they’re healthy, and they might just be the most athletic team in the league. They also destroyed Dallas in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday, leading 59-33 at halftime and winning 108-70.
“I think you have to be really worried about the Thunder,” CBSSports.com NBA writer Zach Harper said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I know they’re relying heavily on Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters, which is never a great thing, but they still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and those guys are hard match-ups for the Spurs, even with Kawhi Leonard. You can only put Kawhi Leonard on one of those guys at a time, and it’s exhausting to try to defend either of them. There was a stretch from 2012 to 2013 where the Thunder dominated the Spurs – really dominated them – in the playoffs and in the regular season. It was because they couldn’t handle that athleticism. Well, the Spurs have really geared up by gearing down. They have built this team to be slow, methodical, surgical on defense – just really a super villain of sorts – and because of that, they don’t have that athleticism anymore. If the Thunder can push the pace and really try to get up and down the floor and rise above everybody, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Spurs. The Spurs can counteract that by just being the Spurs, but that’s not going to be as easy of a series as people think.”
Looking at the East, many analysts feel the Toronto Raptors (56-26) are the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25), but it just might be the Miami Heat (48-34), who have found their stride without Chris Bosh.
“You have guys like Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson really contributing,” Harper said. “They’re not just random names who used to be All-Stars who are on the roster hoping to find a little bit of a role. These guys are really contributing. Hassan Whiteside has been fantastic, Josh Richardson has come out of nowhere to be a real weapon for them, the bench is so good, their defense is so good – Erik Spoelstra has coached so well since this Chris Bosh thing has happen again for the second straight year. They shouldn’t be this good.”
Miami dismantled Charlotte, 123-91, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Sunday.
“The Hornets (have) a legit chance to upset them in the series – or at least it looked like that going in,” Harper said. “But after Game 1, that makes that ridiculous.”