West Conference Finals Preview: OKC vs. GSW
*Photo via Getty Images
The Western Conference Finals tip off tonight as the Golden State Warriors take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1, in what should be an entertaining series. This is a highly anticipated series that could potentially go seven games. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will go head to head against Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in a high scoring match-up. The Golden State Warriors won the season series 3-0, but expect this series to be a lot more competitive with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. As much of the attention will be on the stars, the role players are equally, if not more important in this series. Every player will play a role and there are X-factors on each team that can turn the series their way. The Thunder are the underdogs, so let's examine the X-factors they need to advance to the NBA Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder
*Photo via USA Today
Dion Waiters is arguably the third best scorer on the Thunder and he's going to have to elevate his play in order to push the Thunder to the NBA Finals. The Warriors are an offensive juggernaut and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook won't be enough to win the series. They are going to need help and Waiters is going to have to be that guy. He's only averaging 9.4 points per game in the playoffs, but he is shooting 46 percent from the field and had a 17 point game explosion in a critical win for the Thunder over the San Antonio Spurs. Waiters is definitely capable of scoring and the Thunder are going to need him.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, according to basketball-reference.com, allowed opponents to score 102 points per game during the regular season. They ranked 15th in that department, however, their defense has improved this postseason. The Thunder are going to have to keep it up in order to beat the Warriors. In a sub point to this, the Thunder must also contain Stephen Curry. Curry has averaged over 30 points in their season series and they must find a way to at least keep him under 30 in order to come away with the series.
The Thunder are a turnover machine and that will come back to haunt them. The Spurs weren’t able to take advantage of it, but the Warriors thrive on the other team's turnovers. If the Thunder, particularly Russell Westbrook, can control the amount of turnovers they get, the Thunder will be in great shape in every game. Turnovers are a big issue for the Thunder and it will be interesting to see if they can contain them. The Warriors don't have it easy though, as they will need certain factors to go their way in order to advance to the NBA Finals.
Golden State Warriors
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The Oklahoma City Thunder annihilated the Spurs on the boards, and given the fact that the Warriors aren't a great rebounding team, they may be in trouble this series. Rebounds and second chance points played a huge role in the Thunder's series against the Spurs, so the Warriors are going to have to rebound the ball well.
Draymond Green is perhaps the biggest X-factor in the entire conference finals, east or west. He definitely has the ability to take the series over and he will be very important for the Warriors. If Draymond Green can play at an elite level, to go along with Steph, the Warriors will end the series early. Draymond Green is their point forward and his all around game will be beneficial to the Warriors. Green could be the deciding factor in this series.
As with the Thunder, the Warriors need to clamp down on defense as well. The Warriors played decent defense in the regular season, but has slipped somewhat in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are going to be tough to guard, especially since they are playing great basketball right now, and the Warriors are going to have to play elite defense to make it back to the NBA Finals.
Those are some of the X-factors for both teams to make it to the NBA Finals. As you can see, defense is going to play a big part as whichever team defends better will most likely make the NBA Finals. The Thunder have an uphill battle to fight and they will need help offensively, but this will be a competitive series and should go down to the wire most games.
The Western Conference Finals begin tonight on TNT and it should be entertaining.