The Oklahoma City Thunder can tie for the best record in the Western Conference if they topple the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.
Timing often works out this way in the NBA. An 82-game schedule may create a sense that not every game matters, but considering ones like the clash between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center on Monday night, and even those leading into such contests are important for the sake of drama -- or at least setting up these types of situations.
With a Western Conference-best 48-15 record, the Spurs host the Thunder, who with a win would jump into a tie with San Antonio atop the standings. Never mind that there are the reverberations of last year's Western Conference Finals series win by Oklahoma City and the resulting flexing of power, but the importance of the playoff positioning for this season is indeed coming down to every game.
San Antonio will again be missing point guard Tony Parker, who has now missed three games with an ankle sprain. Considered a potential MVP candidate, the loss of Parker resulted in two wins before the Spurs' most recent game, a 136-106 shellacking at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers.
That, of course, won't be easy. Oklahoma City is on a quick turnaround after besting the Celtics 91-79 on Sunday, but has won five in a row, including victories against the Clippers, Lakers and Knicks.
And the success has come this year behind an ultra-efficient Kevin Durant and a refined Russell Westbrook as well. The duo is to the Spurs what the Spurs once were considered to the rest of the conference since the arrival of Duncan -- the door that a title contender must break down to have a shot at the NBA Finals.
With Parker's injury, the Spurs have tossed Cory Joseph into the starting lineup and given the backup minutes heavily in favor of Patty Mills rather than Nando de Colo and Gary Neal. Joseph and Mills are no Parker, but in the three games without San Antonio's All-Star, each is averaging 8.3 points while combining for five assists per game.
Of course, none of that is to say the Spurs don't dearly miss their dynamic floor general.
Especially because the Spurs want to get in the open floor to set up their bevy of shooters that wouldn't get the best of looks in the halfcourt against the underrated Thunder defense, the lack of a player able to break down Oklahoma City off the dribble might be San Antonio's most pressing issue. That is, outside of the defense that wasn't there in their last game, when the Spurs gave up 60-percent shooting to the Trail Blazers.
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds: San Antonio opened as 2.5-point favorites.
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