Matchups to avoid

Why the Spurs want no part of OKC in the playoffs; more tough matchups

Originally Published: December 22, 2012
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference
OKC ThunderJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Thunder have been very effective as spot-up shooters this season.

Whenever two teams are relatively close in overall quality (as is usually the case in a playoff series, especially in later rounds), conventional wisdom says the outcome hinges on small advantages at the margins. Matchups in particular gain extra attention, since the ability to exploit an opponent's specific weakness could yield big dividends in what would otherwise be a toss-up.

I've never been a big proponent of this line of thinking -- after all, if two evenly matched teams have a large imbalance in one area, the disadvantaged team must (by definition) make up for it in other ways -- but it does hold a certain appeal among the NBA cognoscenti. And if you're looking for potential matchup disparities that could crop up in the postseason, here are some prime candidates:

Thunder spot-up shooting versus Spurs defense
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden leading the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder were an outstanding offensive team a season ago, but the addition of Kevin Martin has improbably coincided with an entirely new level of efficiency for the Thunder attack. With an offensive rating 8.0 points better than the NBA average, OKC is right on the heels of the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks (+9.2) and 2004-05 Phoenix Suns (+8.5) in the race for the greatest offense of the shot-clock era (1955-present).

Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.