The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the two teams essentially penciled in to represent their respective conference in the NBA Finals. Though the No. 1 seeded Heat still hold that favor to be in the championship series, the Thunder’s chances may have been squashed. Oklahoma City’s star point guard Russell Westbrook will be out for the remainder of the postseason due to a torn lateral meniscus. Westbrook averaged 24 points per game on 20.5 field goal attempts per game against the Houston Rockets in two games.
The door for a representative of the West is now opened. Any of this year’s playoff contenders can make it to the Finals from the West. The opportunity for the Golden State Warriors to make a surprise run is there. The Warriors have a 2-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets, arguably the second-best team in the West. With a home game coming up on Sunday, the Warriors can take a commanding lead in this first round series.
The Nuggets have showed a different look a Game 3 compared to the first two games of the series. Head coach George Karl went with a faster and smaller lineup for the majority of the game.
Overcoming a double-digit deficit at half time, the Warriors came out of Oracle with a two-point win, 110-108. However, the margin did not reflect Golden State’s play in the game. Careless mistakes contributed to Denver’s scoring, accumulating for 30 points worth of turnovers. The Warriors had a combined 21 turnovers, one of which was a five second in-bound violation that almost cost them the game. If Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry can limit the turnovers, the series is for the Warriors to take.
In the Conference Semifinals, the Warriors are likely to face the San Antonio Spurs, who are in a good position to sweep the Los Angeles Lakers. During the regular season, Golden State tied the series with the Spurs with two wins a piece. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is still a force to be reckoned with, as he’s dominating the Lakers’ front court in the first round. Andrew Bogut may have his hands full in a matchup with Duncan.
But playing against the Spurs may be an ideal matchup for Golden State. The small ball and fast pace game can favor them against the old fellas of the Spurs. The Warriors’ lineup that features Curry, Jack, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Bogut could catapult them into the Conference Finals.
Still, the Thunder have the requisite pieces to make a title run even without Westbrook. For one, Kevin Durant will look to dominate with the ball now that his point guard is out, and his improved assist numbers and lowered turnover numbers prove that he’s perfectly capable of dominating the ball more than usual.
A potential Thunder and Warriors matchup for the Western Conference championship would be intriguing for all fans to watch.
The scoring ability of both Durant and Curry would put on a magnificent show. Role players on both sides have also shown that they can contribute by scoring. Oklahoma’s Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin have the shooting touch to stretch the floor and make up for Westbrook’s average of 24 points a game. The Warriors have a variety of players that can score the ball as well, as Thompson and Barnes have both shown that they can score with the spotlight on them. Carl Landry also provides much needed inside scoring off the bench. The low-post presence of Landry can give them the upper hand.
The Warriors are in a great position to increase their chances of making the finals, as bold as that would sound. They currently have momentum to propel them to the Conference Semifinals. Warriors fans will continue to fuel the energy for Golden State to keep pushing deeper in the playoffs. A Miami-Golden State matchup is farfetched to some, but it is very possible with the way the Warriors have been looking against the Nuggets.