Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

Western Conference Finals Preview

The contest we’ve all been waiting for. Ever since the 2012 regular season began, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have been locked in a continuous tussle for the best team in the Western Conference. Now they actually get to decide that face-to-face over a possible seven-game series in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Here’s an in-depth look at how this fascinating series between the two should play out.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

Game 1: May 28, 2012 @ San Antonio – 6:00 AM (IST)

Series schedule:
Game 2 @ San Antonio - May 30 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 3 @ Oklahoma City - June 1 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 4 @ Oklahoma City - June 3 – 6:00 AM (IST)
Game 5*@ San Antonio - June 5 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 6*@ Oklahoma City - June 7 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 7* @ San Antonio – June 9 – 6:30 AM (IST)
*only if necessary

Home Court Advantage: San Antonio Spurs - AT&T Center. OKC Thunder to host San Antonio at Chesapeake Energy Arena

Regular season series: San Antonio beat Oklahoma City – 2-1

2012 Playoffs Leader board:
Points-per-game: San Antonio – Tony Parker (19.1); OKC Thunder – Kevin Durant (26.7)
Rebounds-per-game: San Antonio – Tim Duncan (9.00); OKC Thunder – Kevin Durant (8.10)
Assists-per-game: San Antonio – Tony Parker (7.1); OKC Thunder – Russell Westbrook (4.4)
Blocks-per-game: San Antonio – Tim Duncan (1.88); OKC Thunder – Serge Ibaka (3.67)

How they got here:
First-round: San Antonio beat Utah Jazz 4-0; OKC Thunder beat Dallas Mavericks 4-0
Conference Semifinals: San Antonio beat Los Angeles Clippers 4-0; OKC Thunder beat Los Angeles Lakers 4-1

Preview: A battle between two teams, one of whom (OKC) looks capable of dominating the NBA landscape for years to come, while the other (San Antonio) has been there and done it all four times in the last 13 years. Where Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili constituted the original Big 3 way back in 2002, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are a more recent version of a troika of great players on the same team.

San Antonio are capable of pushing the ball up the floor with Parker orchestrating the plays and are equally adept at playing through Duncan in the post. An understanding of their offensive efficiency is best highlighted by the fact that the Spurs have shot at a phenomenally high rate of 49.1 percent from the field in these playoffs, the best for any team that made it in to the 2012 postseason. They also rank number one by quite some distance in the assists-per-game category in these playoffs; dishing out a staggering 24.13 assists per game. The Spurs also have the deeper bench with Ginobili, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner all capable of giving quality minutes. OKC, on the other hand, have only Harden, Nick Collison and a much slower Derek Fisher to look at for any significant contribution off its bench.

OKC would do well not to get caught in a jump shooting contest or getting limited to a half-court offense. Westbrook needs to dictate the pace of this series by jumping out and running whenever he gets the ball so that the Thunder have their best chance of winning. Equally, Harden and Durant must look to get into the paint as much as possible when they have the ball. The one thing that OKC would certainly feel good about is that in Serge Ibaka they have a player who is the best bet for guarding a player like Duncan. Ibaka is the right size and has the right athleticism to counter Duncan’s veteran tricks. Ibaka also gives OKC the distinct advantage in the shot blocking department while the quick hands of Durant, Harden and Westbrook have OKC in front so far as forcing steals (8.78 SPG for the Thunder versus 7.38 for San Antonio in the 2012 postseason) are concerned.

Numbers Game: 54 percent – That is Tim Duncan’s field-goal shooting percentage in eight games in the 2012 postseason. The only time the 36-year-old ‘Big Fundamental’ has fared better was in the 2005-06 postseason when he shot an astonishing 57.3 percent from the field in 13 games.

Akshay’s Take: San Antonio have the more well-rounded roster, the better coach and home-court advantage. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have been in the league long enough to know what it takes to win in any kind of situation, whether the Spurs are locked in a tight contest or on the road. Gregg Popovich can almost be counted upon to draw the perfect play time and time again as the games go down to the last few seconds.

Yet, this OKC Thunder team are no longer the greenhorns they were up until last year. The fact they have settled five of their nine playoff games in 2012 by six points or fewer in their favour shows they know what it takes to win in crunch time. They have youth and speed on their side and also look the best five-man unit in the league so far as their starting five (Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins) are concerned. Moreover, is there a Spurs player good enough to stop Durant? OKC to win in seven.

Note: Games 5 & 6 of the Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers Eastern Conference semifinals series can be seen LIVE on Ten Sports at 5:30 AM on May 23 and May 25 respectively.

All stats are after games played on May 22, 2012 (IST)