By Mike Corasaniti
Look at any NBA power rankings thrown around the Internet and you’ll see some variation of the following: No. 1 Los Angeles Clippers, No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder.
While the league may still belong to the Heat, the Western Conference belongs to these two teams, and they’re not going through anyone but each other for a shot at a title.
How the Clippers get there
Los Angeles is the best team in the NBA right now (doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?). They may not have proved everything in their amazing win streak over the past weeks, considering the schedule may have been a little closer to the cupcake side, but nobody wins that many games in a row by accident.
What the Clippers mostly proved in their recent winning ways is that they’re more than just a highlight machine for Monday mornings; they can actually play some pretty decent defense. In allowing only about 93 points per game so far this season, the Los Angeles has proved that it’s not the team San Antonio swept out of the playoffs last season.
Los Angeles has proved it can win.
How the Thunder get there
Behind one of the most potent scorers in the league, the Thunder have been riding one of the most efficient offenses in the league (second in points per game with over 105). When Oklahoma City wins, they usually win big.
They’ll sweep Portland or Denver or whoever else is thrown their way the first round, if not entirely behind Durant putting up more than 30 per game. Memphis or San Antonio will put up a huge fight in the next round, forcing the Thunder to flex their defensive muscles that can be so surprisingly tough (especially with Serge Ibaka playing the best overall basketball of his career).
Memphis and San Antonio could both put up interesting matchups in the frontcourt for the Thunder, but Oklahoma City just has too many weapons for anybody to stop a return trip to the conference finals.
Is this a matchup between potent offense and shutdown defense? Not necessarily. But this series does provide for some awesome matchups. Chris Paul on Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin on Serge Ibaka, and even DeAndre Jordan on Kendrick Perkins, this series would be a hell of a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, that feeling of a fun series is eerily similar to the feeling from last season’s NBA Finals. So many juicy matchups, but only one side with the experience and the proven ability to win when it matters most.
Games 1 and 2 will probably be barnburners out of the sheer awesomeness of the matchup, but it would be a surprise if it takes Oklahoma City too long to wrap up it’s return to the Finals.