The San Antonio Spurs have the best chance of advancing in the playoffs if they play the Houston Rockets.
The Spurs and the Rockets split their four-game series this season. Other than their first meeting, which the Rockets dominated, each one of their games were close and competitive.
If we have learned anything over the years from watching NBA basketball it's this: the regular season and the postseason are completely different.
How many times have you heard people say that even though Kobe Bryant is 33 years old, he's 36 in basketball years because of all the playoff games he's played in? Those playoff games also take more of a toll on your body. NBA playoff games are physical, gritty, slow and mentally excruciating. That is why so many young teams falter their first time in the playoffs. They aren't used to the physical and mental demands of an NBA playoff series.
This Houston Rockets team is young. Many of their core players (Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons) have little to no playoff experience, and their head coach, Kevin McHale, has never coached in a postseason. There will be roadblocks for this team once they make the playoffs due to their lack of experience.
The San Antonio Spurs are the complete opposite in terms of playoff experience. If the Spurs were a movie, they would be Groundhog Day. Every year the Spurs are the same story — they finish the season near the top of the Western Conference standings.
While other great teams have come and gone (Webber's Sacramento Kings, the Nash/Stoudemire Phoenix Suns, the Bryant/O'Neal Los Angeles Lakers), the Spurs are still here. That's due to great coaching and a great core of players.
Who would be the best matchup for the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the NBA playoffs?
Gregg Popovich is a wizard. Every year he finds no-name guys and plugs them into his system and turns them into solid NBA players. Danny Green and Gary Neal were nobodies. Popovich has turned them into reliable contributors.
The fact that the Spurs' Big Three are still producing at a high level is beyond impressive. Tim Duncan may no longer have the athletic ability to dominate an entire game from start to finish, but he' smart and chooses his spots so well that it doesn't matter. Manu Ginobili has been battling injuries for much of the season, but come playoff time he's still one of the most deadly fourth quarter scorers. Tony Parker has been playing out of his mind this season. He's become the Spurs' best player and is one of the top five point guards in the NBA.
Last year's Memphis Grizzlies team, which didn't have any previous playoff experience, beat the Spurs in the playoffs because they had the best player in the series (nobody could stop Zach Randolph) and a lot of experienced veterans. The Spurs won't have that problem if they face the Rockets in the first round. Not only would they have the best player in the series, Tony Parker, but their bench is significantly better. The Spurs also don't have the same matchup problems with the Rockets that they had with the Grizzlies.
The shorter travel time will also do wonders for an older team.
The Rockets are a solid regular-season team, but the Spurs are one of the best playoff teams in NBA history and would love to see Houston in a first-round showdown.