The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA's forgotten contender heading into the 2017-18 season after a mostly quiet offseason. They watched as the in-state rival Houston Rockets made a summer splash in an effort to leapfrog the Spurs as the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
San Antonio did make one notable move by signing Rudy Gay, who will look to prove he can still be an impact player in his return from an Achilles injury. Otherwise, it's for the most part the same cast of characters who helped the Spurs reach the Western Conference Finals last season.
Let's check out all of the important information for the upcoming campaign following the league's schedule release. That's followed by a look at the best matchups and a Spurs record prediction.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18, vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (9:30 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: 16-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Houston Rockets: Dec. 15, Feb. 1, March 12, April 1
The I-10 Rivalry has started to pick up some serious steam over the past couple of seasons as the Rockets have rejoined the Spurs among the league's elite. Houston's offseason moves put the team in position to challenge its Texas counterparts for the second seed in the West behind the Warriors.
San Antonio won its first playoff series against the Rockets last season with a 4-2 victory over Houston in the conference semifinals, which marked the sides' first postseason meeting since 1995. The Rockets had won the first three playoff matchups.
After waiting 22 years between those meetings, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see them have off in back-to-back years. But the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves will try to spoil the party as teams jockey for position behind Golden State.
On a more basic level, the clash of styles—the uptempo, high-scoring Rockets against the old-school, fundamentally sound Spurs—makes for entertaining games when they face off.
Golden State Warriors: Nov. 2, Feb. 10, March 8, March 19
San Antonio looked primed to give the Dubs their biggest test of last season's playoffs before Kawhi Leonard suffered a series-ending injury in Game 1. There was no way for the Spurs to seriously compete with the star-studded eventual champions without him.
The Spurs are one of the few teams to hang with the Warriors over the past couple of years, though. They've gone 3-4 against Stephen Curry and Co. over the last two regular seasons, including a 2-1 mark last year following the addition of Kevin Durant.
Perhaps the only downside to matchups between these two squads is the tendency of head coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr to rest key players. So rarely are both teams at full strength when they meet in the regular season, which takes a little bit of the luster away.
That said, it doesn't make the games any less important, and San Antonio should be out to prove it's still a true threat to the Warriors when the teams meet this season.
The Spurs find themselves in a common position. They are flying below the radar despite the fact they're coming off a 61-win campaign and return a majority of their important contributors. Of course, they won't mind letting the Warriors, Cavaliers and Rockets hog the spotlight.
Their consistent success isn't lost on players around the league, though. That was evident in comments from Gay after he joined the organization, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
"Team and winning," he said. "I think you already know, when you talk about the Spurs, there's a certain respect you get. I want to be a part of that."
San Antonio should cruise through the regular season. The only question will be whether Popovich is forced to decide over the final month whether to push for a certain seed or rest his veterans to prepare for the playoffs, even if it means falling down the West standings a bit.
Regardless, the Spurs should land somewhere over 50 wins, with a chance to hit 60 again if they are able to maintain a mostly clean bill of health. The bigger issue is their form and injury report once it's time to face the likes of the Rockets and Warriors come playoff time.