A rematch of the Western Conference Finals is on tap Thursday night as the Oklahoma City Thunder begin defense of their Western Conference championship with a trip to San Antonio.
After a 4-1 series loss to the Miami Heat in last season's NBA Finals, the Thunder appeared set to get one step further this season.
Kevin Durant won another scoring title last season. Russell Westbrook made the All-Star team and James Harden claimed the Sixth Man of the Year award. All three represented Team USA in the London Olympics.
But on Saturday, Harden was shipped to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, prospect Jeremy Lamb, two 2013 first-round picks and a second- rounder.
Harden would've been a free agent at the end of the season and Oklahoma City didn't think it could sign the talented combo guard. That may be true, but with the season about to tip off, there will be a lot of learning on the fly for a team that had legitimate NBA championship hopes.
"We have made changes in the past," said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. "I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our players and how they welcome new people, how they integrate people. That's a credit to guys like Durant, Westbrook and (Nick) Collison, the people that have helped establish the standards as to which we work by on a day to day basis."
The Thunder should still be near the top of the standings with Durant, Westbrook and the rest of the roster, but they may be looking up at the Spurs in the West.
The Spurs are 1-0 after a 99-95 road victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night. Tim Duncan was vintage Tim Duncan on Tuesday with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Tony Parker added 23 points and Kawhi Leonard, a great candidate for Most Improved Player this season, chipped in with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Ten Spurs saw action, but it was a late 3-pointer by Parker and nine of the last 12 Spurs' points from Duncan that gave San Antonio the victory.
"We put in some plays for him but it was just his determination down the stretch that got us the win," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, referring to his long-time pivot man. "If Timmy doesn't do what he does that's a loss for us."
Already lost for the Spurs was All-Star guard Manu Ginobili, who is suffering from back spasms and didn't make the trip to New Orleans. His availability for Thursday is undetermined.
The Spurs have won nine of the last 11 regular-season matchups, but the Thunder dispatched San Antonio in six games in last season's Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City has lost four in a row in San Antonio and 11 of its last 13.