How San Antonio Spurs Match Up Versus Each Potential Conference Playoff Opponent
The playoff race is in full swing, and while the Eastern Conference seeding is fairly decided, the West has plenty of battles that are yet to be won.
The No. 1 seed in the West also remains unknown, and upsets are anything but unexpected as the postseason unrolls.
The San Antonio Spurs currently sit atop their conference, but eight teams still sit between them and the NBA Finals.
Let's see how they stack up against such squads.
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The San Antonio Spurs-Dallas Mavericks rivalry was among the most fierce in the league.
Constantly a prime showing of blood, sweat and tears, spectators were always subject to a treat.
Whether it be the seven game semifinal of 2006 or the first round upset of 2010, the interstate rivalry was always one to look forward to.
Well, what happened?
The Mavericks found themselves in the national spotlight after winning the 2011 NBA Finals, but have since withered from a title contender into a bubble-playoff team.
Currently the No. 10 seed, the Mavericks' playoff chances are slim, but should the team manage to snag the final spot, they may find themselves squaring up against their crosstown rival.
Unfortunately, the potential matchup would severely lack the magic that it once held.
As the Mavericks have faded into obscurity, the Spurs have remained a perennial contender, and with their veterans playing at a top level throughout the season, the Spurs should have little problem slipping past their foes.
Tony Parker would make the point guard tandem of Mike James and Darren Collison work, and Kawhi Leonard would trouble Shawn Marion—though his defense is capable of handling the star sophomore.
Between Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, the Spurs frontcourt is simply stronger in the post—and while Dirk Nowitzki's shooting aptitude will be unfamiliar, the Spurs' 4-0 season sweep indicates that they have little to worry about, should these teams find themselves matched up with one another.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Every NBA fan is anxiously waiting for this matchup to come true. The rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs dates back to the 1999 playoffs, in which the Spurs edged out the former en route to a title.
Ever since, the star-studded squads have been at each other's throats. Now, with each roster featuring an abundance of reinvigorated talent, enthusiasts around the league are calling for a rematch of the once-great rivalry.
Of course, the veteran matchup between Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant would take center stage, but it would be the play of Tony Parker that would give the Spurs the edge.
With Steve Nash's paltry defense being the primary obstacle between Parker and the hoop, the Spurs' superstar should have little trouble.
At the same time, Kobe Bryant always has the potential to ruin things for the Spurs, and his offensive magic could be an issue.
However, between Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have a surplus of talented wing defenders—and keeping Bryant from exploding is certainly possible.
Working the offense through Parker would be the team's smartest strategy, and with proficient defense being performed on Bryant, the Spurs should find themselves in a good position to win against the Lakers.
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Having just barely found their way into the playoffs, the 2013 NBA playoffs could hold a similar fate for the Utah Jazz, who are currently lined up to steal the eighth and final seed.
Unfortunately for those down in Salt Lake City, a similar exit may be inevitable as well.
The Spurs and the Jazz found themselves in a similar situation last year, when an eight-seeded Jazz were swept by the Spurs.
Now, the teams hold those very same ranks—and if both can remain consistent with their playoff positioning, viewers may get to see a rematch.
The Jazz are a team built around their big man core—with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap headlining a deep group of talented bigs.
For the Spurs—a team who at one time struggled against such squads—the list of talented bigs is short. Tim Duncan's resurgence makes him a legitimate star on any team, and the emergence of Tiago Splitter provides Duncan with a proficient partner.
Beyond there, the Spurs frontcourt depth begins to thin. Though Boris Diaw is fully capable of holding his own, as is DeJuan Blair—neither have the talent to compete with the likes of Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter.
Still, if the team's starting post tandem can keep Utah's big men in check, then the Spurs' remaining roster should have little trouble outplaying the rest of the Jazz.
A strong series from Tiago Splitter will be crucial, but offensively, ball movement and a varied attack should be enough to produce a similar ending to last year's first round of action.
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The way the seeding currently sits, the Spurs would avoid the Houston Rockets in the first round, but a late push by the Oklahoma City Thunder could bump the Spurs down a seed, making this matchup possible.
In this scenario, the Spurs and the Rockets would enjoy a fast-paced series, revolving around two of the league's most overpowering offenses.
Led by James Harden, the Rockets have youth on their side as they look to out-run the Spurs with the hopes of a potential upset.
At the same time, many would argue that Houston's current roster is not yet built for a playoff run—and in many ways, they would be right. The team lacks stellar defense, and depth is an issue.
The Spurs—who have improved drastically on the defensive end—would need to contain Harden, something that wouldn't be simple for the wings like Green and Leonard, but not beyond their capabilities.
Aside from Omer Asik, the Rockets lack a true starting-caliber big man, putting increased importance on the play of Duncan and Splitter, who must take advantage of this weakness.
Parker and Lin would be fun to watch, especially considering how productive Lin has been in their regular season meetings. Still, Parker is clearly the more experienced and talented guard—and should have his ways with the Harvard graduate.
The Rockets will always look to score, and the Spurs have the offensive tools and depth to compete.
Still, defensive stops are a must, and an increased focus on James Harden should trouble the Rockets, whose offense is almost completely centered around their star shooting guard.
Golden State Warriors
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Should the Golden State Warriors and the Spurs meet during the postseason, the ensuing matchup has the potential to be a great one.
Between Stephen Curry and Tony Parker, the teams have an elite point guard, while Duncan and David Lee provide their respective squads with talent in the post.
Aside from the stars, both teams are blessed with numerous talented role players.
Andrew Bogut is certainly the more established of the two, but Tiago Splitter has had the better season—especially from a health perspective.
At the wing positions, Leonard and Green will match up with Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson—a duel that is fairly equal on paper, while Jarrett Jack and Manu Ginobili serve similar roles off the bench.
However, against an inexperienced team like the Warriors, the key for the Spurs will revolve around the production of Duncan and Parker, as well as Ginobili off the bench.
If these three play well, collectively, then the series will undoubtedly sway in the direction of the Spurs. Despite their talents, the young Warriors squad is inexperienced, and letting the veterans work their magic would be a wise idea for San Antonio.
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Who could forget the last time these two met?
Despite being the eighth seed, the Memphis Grizzlies upset the top-seeded Spurs in 2011, and a minor rivalry has existed ever since.
Should they meet in the later rounds of the playoffs, another exciting series could be imminent.
From a positional standpoint, Memphis' greatest advantage remains the same as it was two years ago—their post tandem.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph form one of the league's most dominant power duos, and their supremacy proved to be the difference when these team's last met in the postseason.
Of course, the Spurs' frontcourt is much better than it was two years ago. Though Duncan is older, his production has been stronger, while Tiago Splitter has emerged as a legitimate threat.
The duties of containing Gasol and Randolph will fall to Duncan and Splitter, and if they can, the Grizzlies options are limited.
However, the true X-factor of the series will be Kawhi Leonard, the main difference between the Spurs roster of today, and that of two years ago.
Having traded Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies are weaker at the small forward position, and while Tayshaun Prince is still talented, guarding him will be easier on Leonard.
Leonard also will look to make a difference on the offensive end, with the Spurs' big men focused on Memphis' duo, while lockdown defenders, Mike Conley and Tony Allen will give the Spurs' backcourt difficulties.
Giving Leonard a chance to show his talents will be the ultimate decider, but Splitter and Duncan's jobs of containing Randolph and Gasol will be of primary importance.
Los Angeles Clippers
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
The Los Angeles Clippers-San Antonio Spurs rivalry is one of, if not the best in the entire NBA.
The difference in tempo is remarkable, but even more so is their ability to achieve success in such contrasting fashions.
The Spurs' fundamental play has given them the reputation of being boring, whereas the Clippers have garnered prestige as one of the NBA's most exciting teams.
Still, both are exciting—and any matchup between the two, as demonstrated during their regular season contests, has the potential to excite.
The point guard duel between Tony Parker and Chris Paul will take the spotlight, while Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin will serve as their go-to big men.
Despite the fact that the point guards will amass the majority of the attention, the winner in each of the regular season games has been decided by points in the paint, meaning that the production of Duncan and Griffin may ultimately dictate the winner.
Splitter will also be crucial to San Antonio, just as DeAndre Jordan will be a integral member of LA's postseason run.
Working the ball through the post would be the smartest idea for the Spurs, and while many will question its fairness, the Hack-a-DeAndre tactic ensures that the Spurs are never out of it.
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The Denver Nuggets suffered a blow when Danilo Gallinari was diagnosed with a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL), worsening the late-season injury spree that had begun with an injury to Ty Lawson's right foot.
The Nuggets, often praised for their depth, have found substitutions, namely Andre Miller and Wilson Chandler, as well as the emergence of Evan Fournier.
However, without Gallinari, the team will struggle in the postseason, and if they meet with the San Antonio Spurs, the Spurs would be smart to take advantage of Gallinari's absence, and the fact that Lawson is fresh off of a plantar fascia tear.
Though Lawson is expected to return, he will be cautious as to avoid being re-injured, something that Parker will need to take advantage of.
In Gallinari's absence, Kawhi Leonard's defensive duties will be easier, allowing him to work even harder on the offensive end.
Between Duncan and Splitter, the Spurs should expose Kosta Koufos in the post, though Kenneth Faried will work hard to keep the Nuggets in it.
Over all, allowing Gregg Popovich to craft plays that expose the Nuggets' weakness will ensure that the Spurs end out on top.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Last year's Western Conference Finals featured the talents of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs—and if everything falls into place, the same should hold true in 2013.
The Thunder edged out the Spurs last year, due in large part to the performances of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and James Harden. Harden is no longer with the team, but the Thunder remain loaded with talent nonetheless.
The abundance of stars puts an even bigger focus on defense—and limiting the production of Durant and Westbrook will be of primary importance.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green guarded the Thunder's All-Stars throughout the regular season, but even they will need to step it up come playoff time.
Tiago Splitter, too, will have a huge impact on the series, as strong play by him will force Oklahoma City to use a standard lineup, as opposed to the "small" one that they've relied on throughout the season.
Overall, the Thunder have tremendous talent, but the Spurs have proved themselves against him, and if the defense is strong, the Spurs have a strong shot to beat them.