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Age isn't biggest factor in NBA Western Conference finals

Although the San Antonio Spurs seem to be a team of seasoned veterans while the Oklahoma City Thunder appears to be a bunch of youngsters, varying maturity levels and experience exist on both teams.

May 26, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Spurs point guard Tony Parker will battle Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook in a much-anticipated showdown in the Western Conference finals beginning Sunday.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker will battle Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook… (Darren Abate / Associated…)

SAN ANTONIO — Let's not give in to the age-old stereotypes here. Lest of all the old-age ones.

Some would have you believe the Western Conference finals will match the San Antonio Spurs, a collection of methodical Methuselahs, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, an infantile bunch whose point guard dresses like something out of aDr. Seuss book.

Well, that analysis has some growing up to do.

While it's true that Spurs center Tim Duncan was listed as "DNP — old" in a box score this season and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook recently wore a shirt adorned with colorful fishing lures as well as thick red glasses with no lenses — "I see better without them," he explained — varying maturity levels exist on both teams.

For starters, San Antonio has starters who are 20 (Kawhi Leonard) and 24 (Danny Green) along with rotation players who are 23 (Patty Mills and DeJuan Blair) and 27 (Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter). Good luck finding a gray hair in the bunch.

Oklahoma City may have a younger core than its counterpart does, but its stars are hardly postseason neophytes. Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden have made the playoffs three consecutive years, advancing to the conference finals two years in a row.

And for the Thunder, hearing about the difficulties its more pedigreed opponent might present in the series opener Sunday night at the AT&T Center has already gotten, well, old.

"Every question is about how the Spurs are going to come and how the Spurs are going to play," Durant told reporters earlier this week. "But you've got to ask me how we're going to come at them. We're a tough team as well. We come out and play hard. We have a lot of weapons as well.

"I know they're the No. 1 seed, they're a tough group and they haven't lost in a couple of months, but I think that we bring another dimension to the table as well."

For the record, the Spurs have won 18 consecutive games, last losing April 11 to the Lakers.

San Antonio has been a study in spacing the floor, precision passing and easy baskets. Just ask the Utah Jazz and the Clippers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City flattened its first two playoff opponents with an array of drive-by shooting and pull-up jumpers. The Dallas Mavericks and the Lakers will tell you as much.

The Lakers actually outplayed the Thunder twice … and ended up with losses amid a blur of Oklahoma City baskets that could leave them feeling fuzzy until next season.

"Their whole team is very fastbreak-oriented," San Antonio's Green said of the Thunder, "and we have to do a good job of getting back in transition."

Durant, Westbrook and Harden form the highest-scoring trio in the NBA, averaging a combined 68.4 points during the regular season. Leonard's strategy to stop Durant won't end up in any defensive manual.

"When he gets the ball," said Leonard, the rookie out of Riverside King High and San Diego State, "play the best I can and hope he misses."

The Spurs' biggest advantage in the series may be quality depth; they have nine players who averaged at least 8.9 points during the regular season. They also have veteran point guard Tony Parker, who has masterfully orchestrated his team's offense while outplaying the likes of the Clippers' Chris Paul.

"He likes to stay in attack mode and get in the paint to get guys open threes," Westbrook said of Parker. "So you've got to find a way to slow him down."

The same could be said for Westbrook, whose game has developed faster than his fashion sense.

Of course, being only 23 might have something to do with it.

"I've been knowing how to dress for a while," he said.

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