Ranking Potential First-Round Opponents for the San Antonio Spurs
While the Miami Heat's unrelenting dominance has made for little postseason noise in the East, the opposite holds true in the Western Conference, where the playoff race remains very much alive.
With several teams vying for the final few playoff spots, the order remains undecided, as does the pool of teams that will even be competing in the second season.
Though the Spurs and Thunder remain the teams to beat, the Western Conference is overloaded with talented squads, and postseason surprises remain a possibility.
Here's a look at potential matchups for the Spurs this postseason.
5. Dallas Mavericks/Portland Trail Blazers
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Current Seed: 10 (Dallas), 11 (Portland)
Unless a complete collapse occurs with Los Angeles and Utah, the two teams will likely spend their postseason at home preparing for the draft.
Still, the slight possibility remains—though it shouldn't scare the Spurs in the least.
Despite their loss, the Spurs—when fully healthy—are undoubtedly more talented, and their experience would help them dispose of the Blazers.
Dallas, though a veteran squad as well, has been blown out multiple times by the Spurs this season, and a rematch of this once-captivating Texas rivalry would produce similar results.
Both teams have their fair share of quality players, but they simply lack the overall talent to compete with the Spurs and other playoff teams.
4. Utah Jazz
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Current Seed: 9
Having fallen below the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings, the Utah Jazz are now a team on the outside looking in.
A steep decline has long been in effect, and unless the team can recover quickly, making the playoffs will be a major question.
Should they reclaim a playoff spot, it will likely be the final bid, meaning they would face the Spurs in the first round, should the Spurs maintain their lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Spurs had little trouble slicing through the Jazz in the first round of last year's postseason, defeating them in four straight games. If the two were to meet again this year, the outcome would hardly be different.
Neither team has changed its core, though the Spurs have improved elsewhere.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap remain one of the most prominent post tandems in the league, but as a whole, the Jazz are considerably weaker than the Spurs.
Utah is an underdog to even escape the lottery, and barring a miracle, their chances of beating the Spurs are slim to none.
3. Golden State
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Current Seed: 7
The Golden State Warriors have faced a steady decline recently, and the odds of a San Antonio-Golden State series grow higher each day.
The Warriors roster features a well-rounded core, featuring an All-Star-caliber duo in David Lee and Stephen Curry. Surrounding the nucleus is a budding pair of swingmen, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, with Andrew Bogut commanding the middle.
Like the Spurs, Golden State's power forward and point guard remain their strongest assets. Curry is developing into a true leader, while David Lee continues to fly under the radar as one of the league's top big men.
Having already beaten the Spurs once this season, the team certainly possesses talent and are most definitely a squad to watch for the future.
Despite their victory of the Spurs, however, the likelihood of them taking down the West's best team in a seven-game series remains unlikely, especially considering their youth, as opposed to San Antonio's status as a veteran squad.
Still, having witnessed their talents firsthand, the Spurs shouldn't sleep on the Warriors, should they meet in the first round.
2. Houston Rockets
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Current Seed: 6
He may not have been wearing a Houston jersey, but James Harden transformed into public enemy No. 1 in San Antonio during last year's playoffs.
Sporting OKC blue, Harden gave the Spurs fits in last year's Western Conference Finals, and while there is no Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka surrounding him, the Houston Rockets remain more talented than the aforementioned teams.
At the guard position, Jeremy Lin—despite lacking superstar status—has breakout potential, and while his 2012-13 campaign has fallen short of the "Linsane" expectations, his 38- and 21-point performances in his last two meetings against the Spurs ensure that he should not be overlooked.
Small forward Chandler Parsons has matches the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard's breakout season, and while his defense is nowhere near as strong as Leonard's, he possesses the offensive tools to make San Antonio work hard.
In the middle, Omer Asik has proven to be a legitimate big man, while Thomas Robinson possesses the athletic ability to tire any post tandem in the league.
Still, the focus would be on James Harden, but while his track record against the Spurs should give Rockets fans a glimmer of hope, the Spurs certainly possess a significant talent advantage over their Texas counterparts.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
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Current Seed: 8
I'm not going to try to convince you that the Los Angeles Lakers are playing like a championship-caliber team, nor will I try to convince you that this recent "resurgence" makes them a better squad than the Spurs.
Because, to be quite frank, they are not playing like it.
What I will do, however, is tell you that their potential for success blows away any other candidate on this list—and it's not even close.
Sure, things have been rocky in LA, and there's no telling whether or not the team will fully recover before the season's end.
If things start to click for the Lakers, they are dangerous.
Of course, saying that the team will recuperate is by no means definite, and Tony Parker and the Spurs would have little difficulty exposing their current weaknesses, should the team struggle as they have throughout the year.
But a fully-cooperating Lakers squad would give the Spurs a run for their money, and since the series still could go either way, it certainly would not be a walk in the park for San Antonio.