By BRIAN MAHONEY, Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO - A look at the Western Conference finals, which begin Sunday...
No. 1 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (50-16, 8-0) vs. No. 2 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (47-19, 8-1)
Season series: Spurs, 2-1. San Antonio won the last two meetings, including a victory at Oklahoma City, as it charged past the Thunder to earn the No. 1 seed. None of the games was particularly close, with Oklahoma City leading by 22 after three quarters in its Jan. 8 home victory, before the Spurs built leads of 24 and 27 points in their two wins. The last was back on March 16, before the Spurs upgraded their rotation. Tim Duncan averaged 14.5 points and 17 rebounds in San Antonio's victories, while rookie Kawhi Leonard added 14.3 points in the series. Kevin Durant scored 22.7 per game for the Thunder.
Story line: The best of the West, who have been the most impressive teams in the playoffs, meet for a trip to the NBA finals. The Thunder were the conference favorites for much of the season, but the Spurs seem to have assumed that role now after winning 18 straight games by an average of 14 points. They are looking for a fifth NBA title, while Durant and Russell Westbrook are trying to lead the Thunder to their first since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Key Matchup I: Tony Parker vs. Westbrook. The Parker-Chris Paul matchup didn't live up to expectations last round because Paul was banged up, but this one very well might. Both All-Stars are among the best at running the pick-and-roll, Parker rarely looking better than when he torched the Thunder for 42 points and nine assists in the Spurs' 107-96 victory Feb. 4. Westbrook, who averaged 25.6 points in the Thunder's five-game victory over the Lakers in the second round, had a 36-point outing against the Spurs in the regular season but shot only 13 of 29 in that game.
Key Matchup II: Manu Ginobili vs. James Harden. Ginobili has long been one of the NBA's top sixth men, but Harden won the award this season. He was terrific against the Spurs in the regular season, averaging 19 points on 59 percent shooting. Ginobili sat out all three meetings but is healthy now when it matters most, eliminating what has been the Spurs' biggest problem since their last title in 2007.
X-Factor: Danny Green. A reserve who totaled only 12 points in the teams' first two meetings, Green was a starter by the finale, when he made five 3-pointers and scored 21 points. He's fourth on the Spurs after their Big Three in scoring during the playoffs, averaging 10.4 points.
Prediction: Spurs in 7.