The San Antonio Spurs have clinched a playoff spot for the 2013-14 postseason, but the opponent is yet to be determined.
This year, the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies are battling for three playoff spots. The Spurs match up well with practically every roster, but certain franchises are more favorable—or likely easier—opponents.
Even if San Antonio cannot break out the brooms in May, the Spurs will be heavy favorites against any of the four teams. Lower-seeded franchises will hardly feel any pressure, though, giving the yet-to-be-determined opposing team an edge over Gregg Popovich's squad.
To win an NBA championship, the best teams must be beaten. But it doesn't mean San Antonio has no preference about whom it faces during the first round of the playoffs.
Most Favorable Matchup: Dallas Mavericks
San Antonio will have its collective hands full with Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and a prolific Dallas offensive attack that scores 105.1 points per night.
Nowitzki is having a typical Dirk-esque season, averaging 21.6 points and 6.2 rebounds, while Ellis is having a more efficient campaign with his new team. The oft-criticized shooter has increased his shooting percentage 36 points, which can be attributed to Ellis cutting his attempts from behind the arc by 37.5 percent.
While Calderon's assists per game are down from 7.1 last season to 4.9, at 45.4 percent, he is still connecting on three-pointers at an elite rate. Behind the trio, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter have complemented the main players, providing double-digit scoring and a handful of rebounds, assists and steals.
All those statistics sound good, but the Mavericks simply do not have the defense to overcome San Antonio four times in a seven-game series.
I think Spurs-Dallas would be a fun first-round series that would end in about five games.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 3, 2014
The Mavericks allowed San Antonio to score 116, 112 and 112 points during the three meetings to date, and the fourth and final matchup on Thursday, April 10 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), will more than likely be similar.
Sure, Dallas has hung around the Spurs in those three games. But the problem is San Antonio has proven it is capable of holding the Mavs under 100 points.
Additionally, which player will guard Tony Parker? Whether it is Calderon or Ellis simply does not matter, because Parker has run circles around either player at various times this season, tallying 70 points and 17 assists in three games.
While a series against Nowitzki and Co. will most definitely be an ol' fashioned Texas shootout, it would take some serious missteps for the Spurs not to emerge victorious.
Most Interesting Matchup: Golden State Warriors
During the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, it took a Manu Ginobili three-pointer at the buzzer for a San Antonio win in Game 1. Had the Argentine not drilled the trifecta, the Spurs likely would have arrived in Oakland down 2-0, where Golden State has usually played very well.
Granted, the 2013-14 season has not necessarily been kind to the Warriors, considering the Dubs are a mediocre 24-13 at home. But come playoff time, Mark Jackson's team knows that its only two guaranteed home games are absolute must-wins.
That Stephen Curry character, my friends, and his Splash Bros. partner in crime Klay Thompson are pretty decent shooters. Combined, Curry and Thompson have knocked down 41.3 percent of their attempted trifectas. David Lee has been another key contributor to the Warriors' offensive onslaught, taking 82.0 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the basket, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Should a matchup with Golden State worry the Spurs?
Would Curry be able to shoot his way past San Antonio? Well, the biggest difference between 2013 and 2014 is Golden State no longer can employ Jarrett Jack as its sixth man. Jack scored at least 15 points in four games, consistently picking apart the Spurs' defensively weak reserve unit.
San Antonio swept the regular-season series this year, winning by two and 21 points at home with two- and nine-point victories sandwiched between. But the losses won't phase the Warriors in the playoffs.
Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb says Golden State is building a reputation as the NBA's most fearless foe, being lifted by its young guards. And who knows, maybe Curry and Thompson have the best shooting stretch of their young careers to upend the Spurs.
It's not likely, but there is no doubt the series would be entertaining.
Least Favorable Matchup: Phoenix Suns
Phoenix showcases an excellent backcourt in point guard Goran Dragic and shooting guard Eric Bledsoe, and the Suns are a well-rounded offensive team. Gerald Green, Markieff Morris, Channing Frye, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee average from 15.5 points down to 8.2 points each night.
Overall, Phoenix averages 105.4 points per game, and its 103.2 defensive rating, per NBA.com, is certainly respectable for an offense-first team.
The Suns have continued to improve this season, especially because the oldest player, Frye, is just 30 years old. The majority of Phoenix's roster is entering their prime, and the unit is becoming a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
|Nov. 6 @ SA||99||96|
|Dec. 18 @ PHX||108||101|
|Feb. 21 @ PHX||85||106|
|Apr. 11 @ SA||- - -||- - -|
In November, the Spurs topped a Dragic-less Suns squad, but then in February, Phoenix destroyed a Parker-less San Antonio team. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News summed up the prospective series perfectly.
Part of me thinks Phoenix is first-round foe Spurs would want the least. Just because they haven't played this iteration of Suns much.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 26, 2014
Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn asks if any team can upset San Antonio in the first round, and as it stands, the Suns represent the least favorable matchup—even if only for the unknown of how Phoenix actually matches up with the Spurs.
San Antonio and Phoenix square off on April 11, but it will be the final back-to-back games of the Spurs' season. Consequently, if Pop stays true to trolling form, that meeting at the AT&T Center will showcase some resting starters, and the league will continue to know very little about this potential series.
Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.