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Spurs and Thunder kick off West finals

The San Antonio Spurs are the closest thing we've seen to basketball perfection in years and will enter the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder riding a franchise-record 18-game winning streak.

The young Thunder, with twin 23-year-old superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, will play the bucking bronco trying to throw the Spurs when this rodeo kicks off Sunday in the Alamo City.

The Spurs evidently aren't getting paid by the hour in these playoffs, racing to the conference finals for the first time since 2008 with a shock-and-awe campaign that included sweeps over Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers by an average of 14 point a game.

Tim Duncan led six San Antonio players in double figures with 21 points and nine rebounds last Sunday as Gregg Popovich's club completed its latest sweep, taking down the Clippers 102-99.

The Spurs haven't tasted defeat in nearly six weeks, since an April 11 setback to the Lakers and are two wins away from becoming just the fourth team in NBA history to take 20 in row.

"As far as the winning streak is concerned, it doesn't exist for us," Popovich said. "Each game is its own and we don't talk about it, it doesn't come up and it's not even on the radar for us."

San Antonio's experience is a tough hurdle for anyone to overcome. Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have now played 130 playoff games as teammates, the most among any active trio in the NBA. Meanwhile, Popovich has now amassed 116 career postseason wins, third all-time behind Phil Jackson (229) and Pat Riley (171).

"They know that if they just stick with each other and the system that often times things are going to turn your way," Popovich said of his star trio. "That experience they have gained over a long period of time and I guess they feel comfortable with each other when they're in a tough environment."

The Thunder, of course, are no slouch and were once in the driver's seat for the conference's top seed until a slow start to April coupled with a resurgent Spurs club dropped them from the West's perch.

Owners of the No. 2 seed, Oklahoma City needed just nine games to reach the West finals for the second straight season, gaining revenge by sweeping the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, who beat then in last season's West finals, before ousting Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in five games.

Westbrook scored 28 points and Durant had 25 in the clincher over the Lakers.

"It's going to be a mental challenge for us," Westbrook said when talking about the Spurs after taking care of the Lakers. "They haven't lost in a while and we've got to be prepared to play."

The Spurs went 2-1 against the Thunder during the lockout-shortened regular season. Oklahoma City won the first meeting, 108-96 on Jan. 8 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but the Spurs came back to take the season series with a 107-96 victory Feb. 4 at the AT&T Center and a 114-105 road win March 16.

Parker was outstanding in the teams' second meeting, scoring a season-high 42 points and dishing out nine assists. Ginobili, however, did not play in any of the games against the Thunder because he was sidelined with injuries.

"They have been together awhile; they have a lot of tricks to their game," Westbrook said. "I think myself, Kevin [Durant] and James [Harden] have to step it up mentally to carry our team and take them to The Finals."

In the postseason, this rivalry dates back to 1982 when the Thunder were known as the Seattle SuperSonics. The Spurs topped Seattle three times in the playoffs, '82, 2002 and 2005. This is the first time the franchises have met since the Sonics relocated to OKC in 2008.