NBA Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Spurs vs. Thunder and Cavs vs. Hawks take centre stage

Ahead of the NBA Playoffs second round match-ups between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks check out some statistics and facts worth noting.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder
–Spurs-Thunder has developed into a premier rivalry. This series represents the third postseason matchup between the teams over the last five seasons. Oklahoma City defeated San Antonio in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and the Spurs returned the favor in the same round in 2014.

–The series features three 2016 Western Conference All-Star starters (San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history (San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich), three Finals MVPs (Leonard and Spurs teammates Tim Duncan and Tony Parker) and the two teams with the best regular-season records since 2009-2010.

–The Spurs rank as the best postseason defense so far after finishing first by a comfortable margin in the regular season. The Thunder owns the best playoff offense to date after ranking second during the regular season.

–The small forward position here is one of the NBA’s most compelling individual matchups: four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant vs. two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. Leonard’s success slowing down Durant is crucial to San Antonio’s hopes, but it’s worth noting that the matchup is also intriguing on the other end of the court because Leonard has improved dramatically on offense and Durant has gotten better on defense. Leonard figures to defend Russell Westbrook quite a bit as well.

–Tony Parker played the first playoff series of his career against the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder), in the 2002 first round. As a 19-year-old rookie point guard, Parker had a big series against future Hall of Famer Gary Payton to help San Antonio advance – a performance that cemented the precocious Frenchman as a future star.

–Only five active NBA coaches have won championships. To reach The Finals, rookie NBA coach Billy Donovan of Oklahoma City might have to defeat three of those five: He already beat Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, now faces Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and then potentially could meet Steve Kerr and the Warriors or Doc Rivers and the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. (The other active title-winning coach is Miami’s Erik Spoelstra.)

–Tim Duncan (155) needs seven playoff wins to pass Derek Fisher (161) for the most in NBA history. Fisher finished his career with the Thunder, losing to Duncan and the Spurs in the 2014 playoffs. With his next win, Duncan will pass Robert Horry for sole possession of second place.

–Tim Duncan turned 40 on April 25, about five weeks after teammate Andre Miller, the NBA’s oldest active player, celebrated his 40th birthday. The Spurs are the second team in NBA history with two 40-year-olds, joining the 2012-13 Knicks (Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas).

–San Antonio (six) and Oklahoma City (three) combine for nine international players, the most in a 2016 playoff series so far.

–Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have each scored 30 points in the same playoff game nine times. The only teammates with more such games are Elgin Baylor and Jerry West (24).

–The Thunder outrebounded opponents by an NBA-high 8.3 boards per game in the regular season, the highest margin since the Celtics’ +8.7 in the 1973-74 season. OKC was the NBA’s best offensive rebounding team and San Antonio allowed the fourth-fewest offensive boards, so that particular matchup will be an important factor.

–Bench play will also be significant. San Antonio’s bench rated as the NBA’s best during the regular season, while Oklahoma City’s second unit is anchored by the league’s top big man reserve, Enes Kanter of Turkey. Kanter was excellent against Dallas in the first round and is a big reason why Oklahoma City dominates the glass. Also for OKC, reserve guard Dion Waiters is an X factor: He shot 43.4 percent in 53 regular-season wins in which he played and 31.8 percent in 25 regular-season losses in which he played.

–Thunder center Nazr Mohammed won an NBA championship with the Spurs in 2005. The 38-year-old is one of four active players drafted in 1998, joining Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter.

— Rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, won by the Cavaliers in four games. In that series, LeBron James nearly averaged a triple-double with 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists. Kyrie Irving only appeared in two games, and Kevin Love did not play at all.

— This is the third time the teams have met in the postseason. Cleveland swept Atlanta in the second round of the 2009 playoffs, before losing to Orlando in the conference finals.

— LeBron James (5,111) ranks sixth on the playoff career scoring list, 25 points behind Tim Duncan (5,136). James needs 41 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal (5,250) for fourth place.

— LeBron James (1,215) needs 49 assists to pass Jason Kidd (1,263) for third place on the career playoff assists list. Magic Johnson (2,346) is the all-time leader, followed by John Stockton (1,839).

— Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore and Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova are two of the league’s top undrafted player success stories. Bazemore, who went undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2012, has worked his way into being a starter on a playoff team. Dellavedova, who was not selected in 2013 out of St. Mary’s (Calif.), has become an integral bench player for the Cavaliers.

— In 17 career playoff games, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving is averaging 21.0 points on 44.9 percent shooting, including 45.7 percent from three-point range.

— This season, Paul Millsap became only the fourth player since 2010 to lead his team in scoring (17.1 ppg), rebounds (9.0 rpg), steals (1.8 spg) and blocks (1.7 bpg). The others are Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins, who each did it twice, and Anthony Davis.

— With seven All-Star selections between them, it would be hard to call Atlanta’s Al Horford and Paul Millsap underrated. Understated is probably the most accurate term. Their games aren’t flashy; instead, they are consistently good, efficient, well-rounded and hard-working – a solid foundation for one of the best teams in the East.

— Cleveland’s J.R. Smith has had his share of ups and downs over the course of 12 NBA seasons. He’s been the league’s top sixth man (2012-13). He’s been traded a few times. He’s been disciplined by the NBA for some erratic behavior. Through it all, Smith keeps shooting … and making a ton of threes. He ranks 17th in career three-pointers made with 1,679.

— Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue played for the Hawks in 189 games over four seasons (2004-08). He averaged a career-best 11.4 points in 56 games (17 starts) during the 2006-07 season.

— Cavaliers assistant coach Larry Drew was the head coach of the Hawks for three seasons (2010-13), leading the team to the postseason each year.

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Image: NBAE/Getty
Source: Pitch London