The San Antonio Spurs' aging roster finally starts catching up to them. The regression is slow but apparent, as the team simply doesn't have the same ability to close out games.
Kawhi Leonard does have a remarkable sophomore campaign and gives the Spurs hope for the future. The Spurs win the division, but the irony of a historical rule change nips them in the heels.
In 2006 they finished with the best record in the Western Conference, and Dallas, who was in the same division, finished with the second-best record in the West. However, because the rules stipulated that the three division champions won the three best seeds, the Spurs faced the fourth-seeded Mavericks in the second round.
Dallas won the series and went on to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. That offseason the rules were amended in two ways. First, the three division champs and the next-best team were assigned the top four seeds in order of record, regardless of who the champions were.
Additionally, the team with the better record gets the home court advantage, regardless of seeding. As a result, the fifth-seeded Clippers, who finish the 2012-13 season with a better record than the Spurs, will host the fourth-seeded Spurs.
The Clippers are a better team in 2013 mostly because of the improvement of Blake Griffin, who elevates himself into the MVP conversation with his improved jump shot. He, along with Andrew Bynum and Kevin Love, make the first trio of players to average 25 points and 10 rebounds for a season since the 1995-96 season when it was accomplished by David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Spurs swept the Clippers in the 2012, but this year the Clippers turn things around as they have the Chauncey Billups to help them out. That, combined with stellar performances by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul propel the Clippers past the Spurs in spite of the fact that Vinny Del Negro is hopelessly over-matched by Gregg Popovich.
It's an incredibly tight, back-and-forth series and isn't sealed until Billups clinches the last game on a last-second three in Game 7.
Prediction: Clippers in seven