The editor of Air Alamo, Quixem Ramirez, and I exchanged questions and answers about the matchup tonight between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder and Spurs come into the game tonight with the two best records in the Western Conference.
Below are the questions I asked Quixem:
AK: What is the confidence level for Spurs fans right now with this team? Another impressive regular season as a top-2 seed in the West currently but it feels like no one is giving them too much credit and that probably has a lot to do with the first round loss last season. Do you feel like the legit 2-seed in the West?
QR: No one ever gives the Spurs credit. As a progressive fan base, we’ve accepted that. Embraced that. And yes, I’d say there is definitely an aura of confidence among Spurs fans. There is some (and I include myself to an extent) that are a little wary of proclaiming this team a contender. That stems from our 61-21 record last year and the subsequent disappointment we endured after the Spurs were ousted from the playoffs in six games — to an eight seed. The Grizzlies were an impossibly unfortunate matchup for the Spurs so keep that in mind.
The emergence of Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green give me hope that this team will not have the same fate as last years squad. Although we aren’t going to have the same winning percentage as last year, I feel like we’ll have more playoff success. Just my gut.
AK: Thought on the Stephen Jackson trade? How does this help the Spurs? How might it hurt them?
QR: I don’t know how to approach the Stephen Jackson trade. Part of me really likes the deal and part of me feels indifferent. Defensively, this trades a wash. RJ was never able to improve defensively as a Spur but, even so, it was pretty apparent that he gave a crap. I always appreciated that. He approached his demotion — check out his tenure with New Jersey, he was electric — with humility and grace. He came to the Spurs as an athletic, uber confident player. His first year wasn’t good for his self-confidence. It took awhile to adjust, but give him credit for embracing his new role as a spot up shooter (he was decidedly below average until recently).
That being said, I was ready for RJ to leave. A recurring theme was his propensity to disappear. When he’s aggressive, the Spurs are always better. When he’s not, he’s just a waste of space. Stephen Jackson has a reputation for being a bad teammate but Tim Duncan swears that he was a great teammate. I believe him. Jackson will bring a lot of energy and heart to the team. Who cares if he’s an inefficient scorer at this stage of his career?
AK: The Spurs beat the Thunder last time with Parker scoring 42. Do the Spurs feel like an underdog against the Thunder or are they confident they can beat the Thunder in a series?
QR: The Thunder are an amazing team. I can only imagine the excitement of the Thunder fan base. They’re so young, so talented, ripe with potential. That being said, I don’t think the Spurs feel like an underdog against the Thunder (I think the Spurs are 7-1 in their last 8 against OKC but I could be wrong). We specialize on beating teams down with execution and sound fundamentals. I think, in those two areas, the Thunder leave something to be desired. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spurs beat the Thunder in a seven game playoff series.
AK: What would be the worst playoff matchup for the Spurs?
QR: I’m still a little better so I don’t want to play Memphis. It would be nice to kick their ass though. Any team with legitimate size can pose a threat to our team. The general consensus among Spurs fans is that we need another big man (either a defensive minded center or power forward that can guard stretch 4′s and stronger 4′s). I wouldn’t want to see the Lakers either. Bynum and Gasol are tough. Plus, Jordan Hill gives them some frontcourt depth.
AK: A healthy Manu Ginobili is one of a kind. If Ginobili is 100 percent in the playoffs does that make the Spurs a real title contender?
QR: Definitely. Absolutely yes. Prior to his injury, Manu was playing at a LeBron James level (small sample size but his PER was higher than LeBron’s). Manu is the ultimate X-factor. He is an adept passer off pick-and-rolls, has a genuine sense of the moment and can change the tenor of a game by himself. Now that Tony Parker is playing at an MVP level and Timmy is still producing well on a per-minute basis, the Spurs are definitely a title contender.
Just please stay healthy Manu. Please.