Spurs, Thunder Face Lineup Decisions

By Randy Renner

These next three days should be interesting for those of us who pay attention to the Thunder and the Spurs as both teams play back-to-backs and both will face some interesting lineup decisions.

San Antonio hosts Golden State tonight, The Thunder host the Spurs tomorrow night and then Oklahoma City goes to Houston on Friday.

The Spurs are on a roll, playing their best basketball of the season, winning 18 straight games. The Thunder have also been playing well generally having won eight of their last 10.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been known to rest his star players no matter how important an upcoming game would appear to be.

Most people would probably think Pop might rest some of his guys tonight against the Warriors so he could have all hands on deck here in OKC Thursday night.

It will probably be just the opposite as veteran members of the San Antonio media say Popovich usually always rests guys on the second night of back-to-backs not the first.

And then there's that pesky winning streak the Spurs have going. Popovich isn't really a fan of long winning streaks, especially one like his team is on right now, one where they are seldom even challenged much less face critical decisions down the stretch to win a game.

He was even asked before the Indiana game Monday night if it might be a good thing if the streak were to end soon.

"I think that would be a good idea at some point," he answered. "I don't know when it will happen but it will happen. When it does that will be good."

Popovich believes if his team gets on a long winning streak they tend to get a little comfortable. It's always good, he figures, to get knocked down a notch once in a while just to keep guys on their toes and focused.

So Pop could very well force the issue by resting guys both tonight and tomorrow.

"I think he'll be happy if we lose anytime soon," point guard Tony Parker told the San Antonio Express-News. "I'm pretty sure he's going to rest half the team."

The last time the Spurs had a streak like this the Thunder ended it, big time. San Antonio ended the 2011-12 regular season and began that season's playoffs with a 20-game winning streak.

It all came crashing down in the Western Conference Finals when the Thunder lost the first two games of the series in San Antonio and then won the next four games to end the Spurs winning streak and start one of their own.

So long winning streaks and how they can lead to big losses are still fresh in the minds of the Spurs, or at least their head coach.

Thunder bossman Scotty Brooks will be facing lineups decisions too, though his will probably be more determined by what the medical staff has to say than any worry about streaks.

Brooks has said he doesn't plan to waiver from sitting All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook in one game of back-to-back sets.

The next one of those is coming right up with the Spurs on Thursday and the Rockets on Friday.

Conventional wisdom say Westbrook plays Thursday and sits Friday. The Thunder need to beat the Spurs to climb closer to the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

But if Popovich sits, let's say Parker and Tim Duncan Thursday night would Brooks be tempted to also sit Westbrook in the hope his team could beat a short-handed Spurs team and then have Westbrook for the Rockets, who will be without pesky point guard Pat Beverley who is dealing with his own knee issues.

The other wildcard in that decision is the health of Thunder backup point guard Reggie Jackson. He's missed the last two games with a back sprain. His status is unclear but will be at best a game time decision Thursday. The health and playing status of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins will figure into this as well. Remember Perk said last week he hoped to be back for the Rockets game.

Brooks most likely won't reveal what he plans to do until just before the Spurs game tomorrow night. We should get a good idea of what Popovich plans to do with his lineup against the Thunder based on who he puts on the floor against the Warriors tonight.

No matter what, it will be fascinating to see who's names are in the starting lineups the next few nights, and who's aren't.