Gameday Dish

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty ImagesWhen the dust settles after tonight’s duel between Western Conference top guns San Antonio and Oklahoma City, several significant streaks will either continue or get stopped cold.

Coach Popovich’s guys own the NBA’s best record at 59-16 and have won an incredible 19 contests in a row, including last night’s home dismantling of the Golden State Warriors, 111-90.

The 54-19 Thunder hold the league’s second best mark. Leading 2014 NBA MVP candidate Kevin Durant has scored at least 25 points in 38 consecutive games, second only to Michael Jordan’s 40-game streak way back in the ’86-’87 season.

Also on the line this evening are OKC’s four straight W’s over their Western Conference brethren, including all three meetings this season. In addition, the Spurs have lost six straight in Oklahoma City including the playoffs.

Not only do the Spurs have something to prove, but with about two weeks left in the regular season, a San Antonio victory tonight would give them a five-game cushion over the Thunder for the top slot in the West.

Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images-Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty ImagesHowever, with tonight’s 48 being the back half of a back-to-back and SAS’s fifth game in seven nights, it will be interesting to see if the wizened Popovich decides to limit his stars’ minutes, bearing the big playoff picture in mind, or to put the pedal to the metal in what could possibly be a preview of this year’s Western Conference Finals.

The rested Thunder, winners of 6 of their last 7, last played on Sunday night against the Jazz. In their 116-96 home W over Utah, Coach Scott Brooks’ squad shot 55% from the field, 61% from 3 and 89% from the line. The always spectacular Durant had 31 points and 9 dimes in only 29 minutes of floor time.

These two sides last matched up on January 22nd in San Antonio. In the 111-105 Thunder win, KD went for 36 and, playing for the injured Russell Westbrook, 3rd-year PG Reggie Jackson put up 27 points, 8 dimes and 2 steals. It was more of an offensive than a defensive battle, with both teams shooting above 50% as well as lighting it up from the 3.

Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to see if the team with both the best overall record as well as the best road record can finally take one from KD & Company.

Czar’s Finals Preview

Copyright NBAE 2012 - Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe 2013 NBA Finals kick off in Miami tonight, and as is the case in most championship rounds there are plots on top of subplots and buried storylines soon to be unearthed in the hot glow of the Ring Round.

The Heat and Spurs are worthy adversaries. Both are veteran teams that have been infused with a little bit of youth in key positions. Both have deep rosters with several stars and experienced guys coming off the bench. Both possess players who have competed in a number of important playoff games during their careers. Both boast excellent 3-point shooting capabilities. And both teams are led by outstanding coaches.

The Heat beat the Spurs twice this season, but how these teams performed in their two regular season meetings doesn’t carry much weight. Pop sent his core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back home to rest after a rough six-game road trip prior to the first game in Miami. And Spoelstra sat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in their second matchup.

A concern for the Spurs is that their almost 10-day layoff after sweeping Memphis in the WCF could hinder their performance in the finals – rest vs. rust.  It also remains to be seen how the Heat will hold up physically after a grueling 7-gamer against Indiana in the ECF.

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesWill these Finals be remembered as one of the best? After all, many hoops heads have both Tim Duncan and LeBron James on their all-time NBA starting five. One would have to go back to Magic vs. Larry and Michael vs. Magic to equal the historical mano-a-mano accomplishments of Duncan and James.

Wade and Bosh, Parker and Ginobili – which duo will come through when it really counts? We know that Wade has a bum knee and that Bosh twisted his ankle in the ECF. Can both or either of them produce at their career averages, or will they continue to struggle? Has Tony Parker elevated his game and gone from star to superstar this postpeason? Is Parker the second best player in this series?

Will second-year wingman Kawhi Leonard be able to slow LeBron down even a little? Which supporting cast will rise to the occasion? Will the inside presence of 6’11” Tiago Splitter and Duncan give the Heat the same kind of headaches that Indy’s bigs did in the last round?

A fifth ring could cement Coach Gregg Popovich’s (the longest tenured coach in both the NBA and all four big sports leagues) status as one of the all-time top 5 coaches in the league? How impressive would it be if San Antonio were to win the 2013 title 14 years after winning their first one with Pop?!

How will the fact that Miami has played so much heavily scrutinized basketball the past 30 months (3 straight Finals) affect them mentally and physically? And finally, is the world about to bear witness to the best basketball that 28-year-old, 10th-year 4X MVP LeBron James has ever played?

All the answers will be revealed over the next two weeks in what has the makings of a historic NBA Finals. San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 will get underway at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.

Fratello Telestrator


Czar’s Playoff Preview: Jazz vs. Spurs Game 2

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe last time the league had a shortened regular season in 1998-1999, the San Antonio Spurs won their first of four championships. To the surprise of many who counted the aging squad out of the title hunt this season, the Spurs rank among the frontrunners in the playoff picture once again. On Tuesday Gregg Popovich was honored with the NBA’s 2012 Coach of the Year Award after leading San Antonio to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with 50 wins.

The Utah Jazz are the first of four hurdles separating the Spurs from their fifth NBA title. The Spurs went 3-1 against the Jazz during the regular season, and they won the first game of this series easily 106-91. Counting Game 1 of this opening round playoff series, the top-seeded Spurs are on an 11-game winning streak. They are a powerful 29-5 in the Alamo City this season, best home record in the Western Conference. Pop’s squad also finished second in the NBA in point differential at +7.2 this year.

So do the Jazz stand a chance against the Spurs in this series? Well, as the Spurs know all too well, anything can happen in the playoffs. Last year the Spurs were dismissed by the underrated Grizzlies in Game 6. The Jazz, led by ferocious big man Al Jefferson, are a capable group and would love to steal Game 2 tonight at the AT&T Center. Big Al had 16 and 9 in Sunday’s loss. His frontcourt mate Paul Millsap went for 20 and 9 in the series’ first 48. Utah got to the charity strip 30 times, had 13 offensive boards and got decent scoring production from their bench – 31 points. However, the Jazz committed 16 turnovers and shot a pedestrian 42% from the floor.

To take down the well-oiled Spurs, Utah will have to take better care of the ball and create higher percentage shots for the right shooters. In addition, starting PG Devin Harris will need to have more than two assists, and 9th-year veteran starting 3-man Josh Howard (just back from knee surgery) has to score. In Game 1 the former Maverick had zero points.

On the other end, the Jazz must do a better job of containing MVP-candidate PG Tony Parker. The zippy, slashing Parker had 28 points and 8 dimes on Sunday. More importantly, he got into the lane at will and allowed his disciplined teammates to set up for high percentage shot attempts. Playing fast, but always in control, Parker dominated the action was the definition of a floor general. Future HOF’er and 4X champ Tim Duncan had a been-there-done-that double double with 17 points, 11 boards and 5 dimes.

Tune in to TNT tonight at 7:00 PM ET to see if the Jazz can even this first-round series before heading back to Utah.

Fratello Telestrator: Defending the Pick and Roll

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