Spurs, Thunder begin Western Conference Finals in San Antonio

( - The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will meet in the Western Conference finals for the second time in three years, starting with Game 1 Monday night at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

In 2012, the Thunder prevailed in six games to advance to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Miami Heat, but the Spurs can relate, falling to LeBron James and company last year.

Despite the success two years ago, and sweep (4-0) of the series during this past regular season, the Thunder are 10-12 against the Spurs in 22 regular- season meetings since the team moved to Oklahoma City.

The teams were Nos. 1 and 2 throughout most of the 2013-14 season.

"Players step up and play well," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "There aren't really surprises."

"We're very familiar with what they do," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "They're a very good basketball team. They're well coached. They have good players, good role players, good bench players and they have a style of play that demands that you play with great effort for the entire shot clock."

The Spurs needed seven games to get past the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round, then took five games to best the Portland Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City survived a physical seven-game set with the Memphis Grizzlies, then knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in six.

Injuries will play a role in this series, starting with Tony Parker. The Spurs' All-Star point guard suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain in Game 5 against Portland, but should be good to go by Monday.

The same can't be said for Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City's premier defensive big man. A calf injury will keep him out for the remainder of the postseason, which is a huge blow for the Thunder. Ibaka would probably be tasked with covering future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan.

As for who replaces him in the starting lineup, Brooks has options. Nick Collison might make the most sense as a veteran and a strong defensive presence. Steven Adams could help combat the size of the Spurs.

Duncan, at 38, is leading the Spurs in minutes during the postseason, while scoring 15.8 points with 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Parker is averaging 19.3 points and 4.9 assists.

San Antonio's biggest challenge will be stopping OKC's two-headed monster of league MVP Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They've been sensational in the postseason and will represent a huge task for Parker and Kawhi Leonard.

Durant was named MVP for the first time and has continued his amazing play in the postseason. He is averaging 31.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists, but his shooting numbers are down from the regular season. Durant is playing almost 45 minutes a game and that may take its toll.

Westbrook has been very strong in the postseason, averaging 26.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists. He has registered three triple-doubles during these playoffs and that's three more than the rest of the NBA combined.

Game 2 will be Wednesday night in San Antonio.