Updated 11:38 PM EST, Wed, Jan 20, 2021

2014 NBA Western Conference Preview - Starting Five Showdown: Spurs v. Thunder

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Few franchises have garnered more success over the last three years than San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Consecutive 50-win seasons. Multiple MVP's between Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant. Three straight Western Conference titles. If LeBron James hadn't bolted for South Beach, winning the last three NBA titles would have been a tug-of-war along the Oklahoma-Texas border.

Duncan and the Spurs secured as many NBA titles over the last ten years as the Dallas Cowboys have playoff berths. The Thunder won fewer than 47 games just once since their litigious relocation from Seattle, heavily relying on four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. Yet, for all their achievements, for all the accolades and heaps of hardware, the rivals' couldn't be more contradictory of each other's' style.

Theirs is a battle of age versus experience; a changing of the guard that leaves the Spurs with one-possibly two- more championship runs. Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Matt Bonner are at least 32 years old. 29-year-old Kendrick Perkins is the oldest starter in an Oklahoma City group barely old enough for car rentals. Only five clubs have a younger median age than the Thunder.

San Antonio's window of opportunity draws closer to an end with every grizzled veteran's off day. Barring major injuries, can the Spurs still compete with the Thunder's starting five?

Tiago Splitter handily wins head-to-head battles with Kendrick Perkins not just because Splitter's defensive center, but because Perkins is slow as molasses. Perkins can't run, he can't block, and was ineffective around the net last season. The former Celtic notched his lowest rebound per game total since 2006-07, including a menial 3.0 RPG against San Antonio. Serge Ibaka's absence in the Western Conference Finals exposed Perkin's weaknesses. Expect Splitter to do the same.

For a guy entering his 18th season, Duncan still has the stamina of a rookie trying to break San Antonio's 12-man roster. The two-time MVP started 74 games last year, averaging 29.2 minutes per game. Then again, Bonner and Boris Diaw can't really be considered "fresh legs" in relief of Duncan.

Ibaka posted 15 points on 6-for7 shooting in his Game 3 return last May. He single-handedly kept OKC in the conference finals with stalwart defense and stellar shot blocking that placed Ibaka on the NBA All-Defensive First Team. It's what gives Ibaka a step up on Duncan.

Oklahoma City's shooting guard situation is murky, at best. San Antonio's not as much. They have Danny Green and Manu Ginobili; solid guards who complement each other's strengths.

Ginobili is on the wrong side of 30- closer to 40, really- but remains one of league's most effective guards. Green's pinpoint shooting bring more stability, especially with Ginobili recovering from a stress fracture in his right fibula.

Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and Anthony Morrow can't atone for Thabo Sefolosha's departure. Jackson is the only fitting matchup for Green, though, realistically, Jackson is more suited to be point guard. The only reason he starts in the two-spot is because OKC has Russell Westbrook, and because another year on the bench would give Jackson more incentive to test free agency.

Westbrook and Parker have contrarian ways of running championship-caliber offenses. Westbrook has speed, Park has quickness. The former, a showman with a shoot-first mentality. The latter, a deviously clever point guard who's just as efficient from three-point land as he is in setting up a pick-and-roll.

This matchup is a wash. Westbrook put up 0.07 PPG and 0.04 APG more than Parker in 19 regular season meetings. He outplays Parker in the postseason mainly because OKC's offense centers on him and Durant. Parker isn't as carefree; he averaged 2.2 turnovers per games last season to Westbrook's 3.8. Parker is an opportunist whereas Oklahoma City's point makes his own luck.

As for the battle of small forwards, Kawhi Leonard won't stop Durant. Few can.

Last April, Durant broke Michael Jordan's record for consecutive games with at least 25 points. He averaged 35.9 PPG in the month of January. As good as Leonard can- and will- be, he can't cover the "Durantula."

Miami's big three have separated, and injuries to Derrick Rose and Paul George leave their squads one superstar short of legitimate title aspirations. The Spurs' dynasty is coming to a close. It's time for OKC's starting five to take the reins.

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