2012 NBA Playoffs Conference Finals Preview: San Antonio Spurs

| by The No Look Pass

Beat L.A. Clippers in the conference semifinals, 4-0.
Beat Utah in the first round, 4-0.
Seed: #1 (West)
Record: 50-16
Stat Leaders: Tony Parker (18.3 PPG, 7.7 APG), Tim Duncan (9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG), Kawhi Leonard (1.3 SPG).
Opponent: #2 Oklahoma City Thunder, 47-19
Record Against Them This Season: 2-1
Writers: Michael De Leon (@mdeleon), Jeff Garcia (@sa2ny2004)
Web Site: Project Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are like a machine right now. They swept through Utah... and then they swept through the Clippers as they reach the Conference Finals for the first time since 2008. This time around, they have quite the opponent in the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have only lost once in the playoffs themselves. I bring back Michael De Leon and Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs to get their thoughts on their awesome playoff run so far.

The Spurs look invincible right now (18 straight wins). But is this something to be worried about?

MIKE: I worry about them not being seriously tested yet, but i think that may come in this series. I still see weaknesses and I didn't think they played great in any of the four Clippers games so there's room for improvement.

JEFF: You always worry about the Spurs letting complacency set in and a "take it for granted" mentality. Though that's highly doubtful since this is a team made up of Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and with that quartet, you know they won't allow the team to take the foot off the gas pedal.

Are you surprised on how they handled the Clippers?

M: I expected the Clippers to pick up one game, but what I'm most surprised about are how dominating the wins were. I expected to see a much more aggressive Blake Griffin and I think DeAndre Jordan was exposed a bit in that series. Caron Butler also really only made a mark in two of 16 quarters, so I was surprised at that definitely.

J: A bit. I was expecting the Clips to use their size with Griffin and Jordan and expose the Spurs in the middle but I was wrong. Wrong in the sense of how horrible Jordan is offensively and how much work Griffin needs on his game. Lots of work! Of course, Chris Paul and Griffin were hurt and not having Chauncey Billups hurt the Clips but the Spurs did what they had to do and took care of LA.

So the way Tim Duncan is playing right now... THIS is what you expected, right?

M: If you asked me that question at the beginning of the season, I would say no way. Asking me now is different. I noticed a big difference in Tim maybe a month and a half before the season ended. He looked like he was moving to the basket quicker, he was finishing at the rim more and he had a spring in his step. In fact several of us in the media asked him and several of his opponents about it and he always said he just felt good. When I saw that that wasn't just a fluke, I expected that he'd have a good run in the playoffs as well.

J: Not. At. All. But this is a care where you just take it and run. What TD is doing is just amazing. Offensively, defensively, and all other intangibles, TD is simply looking like he might have more years left in the tank. This is a credit to him, the Spurs' training staff and Pop for managing his minutes for the playoffs.

The Spurs draw the Thunder. What are the keys to stopping that young team?

M: The offense has to keep rolling the way it has been. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will likely have big assignments in this series, defending Durant and Westbrook. While no one will completely stop them, they have to make sure those players work hard for every shot and are shooting jumpers instead of easy baskets in the paint. The Spurs' second unit really has to step up in this series since they have a huge advantage in that area. The bench wasn't there last series like we had seen all season. Stephen Jackson is a big part of that and they'll need his scoring.

J: Hitting their 3-point shots, making Durant work on the defensive end of the court, take advantage of the Spurs' deeper bench, and knowing the Spurs beat OKC 2 out of 3 times this season. Also, Stephen Jackson has to find his groove in this series. He has been so-so this playoff run.

On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that the Spurs are going to their first NBA Finals since 2007?

M: 8. As Jeff and i talked about on our series preview podcast, the only team that can stand in the way of them making a trip back to the finals are the Spurs. If they make silly mistakes, turn the ball over and play carelessly, it'll be a deep hole to dig themselves out of. They have to be as sharp as they have been since the all-star break and they have to continue to use their strengths. While the Thunder pose the biggest challenge yet, they don't have the playoffs experience and they aren't deep enough to win this series.

J: The Spurs proved in Game 4 of the Clippers series that the only team that can beat them is themselves. They are not unbeatable and size is still an issue.

PHOTO CREDITS: 1, 2) Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images. 3) Layne Murdoch/Getty Images.

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