by Jim Feist of VegasTopDogs.com
Oklahoma City: The team no one wants to play! The Thunder gave us a hint of their young talent a year ago, but has put it all together in 2012 – at least in the regular season. They have a dynamite offense, No. 5 in the NBA in points scored last season and No. 2 this year led by the 23-year old duo of Kevin Durant (27.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Russell Westbrook (24 ppg).
They have 22-year old 6-10 Serge Ibaka (7.6 rpg) and 6-10 center Kendrick Perkins for rebounding and defensive muscle, plus 22-year old sixth man 6-5 James Harden (16.7 ppg), who does a little of everything. The over is 10-3 in the Thunder’s last 13 vs. the NBA Pacific division. They have it all, it seems – except experience. Could this hurt in close, postseason games where the pressure is intense? It appeared to last season. After getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder blew Game 4 at home to Dallas, 112-105 in OT, blowing a 15-point lead with five minutes to play in regulation. Dallas closed it out the next game.
Spurs: A juggernaut from start to finish, the Spurs have redefined themselves he last few years and had another monster season. Long known for defense under Gregg Popovich, the Spurs used an awesome array of depth to blitz opponents, ranking third in the NBA in scoring, 10th in rebounds and 17th in points allowed.
San Antonio still has the Big Three of 35-year old Tim Duncan (15 ppg, 9.2 rpg), 34-year old Manu Ginobili (12.7 ppg) and 29-year old Tony Parker (19 ppg). Ginobili spent most of the year getting healthy, missing half the season. Because of the shortened season the Spurs streak of 50-win seasons is likely to end at 12, tied for the longest streak in league history behind the Lakers, who won 50 12 times in a row from 1979 to 1991.
The Spurs rely heavily on their bench, which leads the league in scoring for the third straight season, with Richard Jefferson (9 ppg), Stephen Jackson and role players in 7-foot Matt Bonner, 6-11 Tiago Splitter, Dujuan Blair and Gary Neal.
Coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan have 4 NBA title rings and they know defense is essential in the postseason. With that said, they are 21st in field goal shooting percentage defense. Last season they ranked 14th and lost in the first round to Memphis in six games. They are hot at the right time, and on a sizzling 24-8-3 ATS run and the Spurs are 22-8 over the total following a straight up loss. They are also 22-8 under the total against a team with a winning record. Over the last two weeks of the season the Spurs play the rival Lakers three times!
Lakers: The Lakers have undergone a lot of changes but still are a formidable team. New Coach Mike Brown has turned LA into a defensive-first team, slowing the pace down and the Lakers are 12th in the NBA in points allowed and seventh in field goal shooting defense (43%).
There’s no denying the talent and depth on this team, led by 33-year old Kobe Bryan (28 ppg), 7-foot 31-year old Pau Gasol (17 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and 7-foot center Andrew Bynum (18 ppg, 12 rpg), the biggest reasons they are second in the NBA in rebounding. They added 25-year old point guard Ramon Sessions, an excellent pick-up. Opponents had been exploiting LA’s aging and small backcourt the last two years, but Sessions has helped turn that around. Of course, they have a losing record on the road, which is a concern. Despite that commitment to defense, LA ranked fourth in field goal shooting defense last season and is on a 21-8 run over the total, as well as 21-7 over the total against the Western Conference.
LA Clippers: The new Beasts of the West? Well, not quite. Adding guard Chris Paul (19 ppg) with Blake Griffin (20.7 ppg, 11 rpg) is certainly a nice one-two punch to upgrade any franchise, especially on offense. And they will be fun to watch in the playoffs, but the Clippers are not a good defensive team, in the middle of the pack in points allowed and field goal shooting defense, in addition to 26th in the NBA at defending the three-pointer. That explains a losing road record, plus the over is 19-7 in the Clippers last 26 games vs. a team with a winning percentage above .600.