San Antonio Spurs: The Most Favorable Playoff Matchups for Tim Duncan and Co.
As they have demonstrated throughout the season, the Spurs are as big a threat as the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks, Heat and Bulls to win the title this year.
This would have seemed an impossibility at the beginning of the regular season. After the Spurs somehow kicked the Mavs out of the first round last year as a seventh seed, they were quickly swept by the “could not miss a shot” Phoenix Suns team in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.
As the remaining games of the 2010-2011 regular season wind down and the Spurs continue to cement their No. 1 seed firmly into place, it is time to take a look at the matchups that would favor San Antonio the most (No. 6 being least favorable, No. 1 being most favorable).
No. 6: Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets
Without the distraction-magnet Carmelo Anthony continuing to send mixed signals about his commitment to the team, the Nuggets are doing just fine and dandy nowadays. Since dealing Melo to the Knicks in a blockbuster trade before the deadline, the Nuggets have gone 7-2, proving that there is life after trading their franchise player away.
Danilo Gallinari is a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki (I said it), while Wilson Chandler gives them much needed toughness on the defensive end. The Nuggets also have a phenomenal bench, led by Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith and the consistently entertaining Chris “Birdman” Andersen (whose tattoos could cause some to feel the need to take a shower, seeing the man is a living rainbow of color).
The Nuggets could actually give the Spurs a challenge for a change, seeing that when they are hitting threes, they are arguably the most lethal team in the league (J.R. Smith sank nine, I repeat, nine threes yesterday against the Pistons).
However, I still see the Spurs closing them out in six. Look for Tim Duncan to get Kenyon Martin into foul trouble early if these two clubs meet.
The Nuggets have gotten significantly better when compared to when they played the Spurs in the playoffs in the past, but Tony Parker’s ability to get to the rim over the younger and less-experienced Ty Lawson will be the defining factor in this potential series.
No. 5: Spurs vs. New Orleans Hornets
Since their surprising, almost inexplicably fast start, the Hornets have settled in to being a middle seed in the Western Conference this season. Like the Suns, the Hornets go as far as their point guard will take them, and Chris Paul is certainly one of the best in the league (right next to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls).
The Hornets have Emeka Okafor to match up against Tim Duncan on defense. David West has had some astonishing games against San Antonio in the past, but everybody is a little bit older, and in the Hornets case, a bit more distracted, concerning the free agency of both West and Paul coming up soon.
Rookie head coach Monty Williams has done a sound job so far, but the playoffs are a whole different beast, and one has to wonder how Williams is prepping his team for them.
If the Hornets are to have any chance of taking a series against the Spurs to seven games (like they did in 2008), David West and Chris Paul have to have monster games literally every game. Since Trevor Ariza’s shooting percentage and overall stats remain in the dumps, the Hornets do not really have that coveted three-headed monster that many teams covet nowadays.
The Spurs do, and that animal tends to show its fangs once the postseason kicks into gear.
No. 4: Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies dealt Pau Gasol in one of the worst NBA trades of all-time in 2008. This is widely accepted.
No one expected the Grizzlies to be a playoff threat this soon, especially with a seemingly bloated contract in Zack Randolph being dealt their way and Mike Conley Jr. not living up to the potential many thought he possessed.
Thanks to head coach Lionel Hollins’ tough, gritty demeanor, as well as his ability to get the most from all of his players, the Grizzlies have proven to be an underwritten surprise in the league this year, and one that could be a fourth-or-fifth seed threat in the Western Conference as soon as next year.
With all that said, the Grizz might steal a game and give the Spurs a scare in another one, but experience once again trumps youth and potential. Memphis has some exciting young pieces, and if they can somehow complete a switch of O.J. Mayo’s attitude for Ray Allen’s, they could be really, really good for a number of years.
But this is 2011, and the Spurs always kick it up another notch for the playoffs. This year will be no exception.
No. 3: Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
We have been seeing the slow demise of the Phoenix Suns for more than half a decade now. Ever since they could not get past the Spurs in '05, the Suns have slowly dismantled a once potential multiple title-winning team.
Call it bad luck, seeing as Joe Johnson returned late in the series against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals during that year, but for some reason the Suns did not see it necessary to keep a pivotal part to their success once Johnson became a free agent that offseason.
Money was definitely a huge factor, but seeing that the Suns were not shy about getting Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire all on one payroll, keeping Johnson should have become a no-brainer. Instead they agreed to a sign-and-deal trade with Atlanta, and since then the team has dealt or lost the rest of their once-phenomenal squad, with Steve Nash left seemingly helpless in the aftermath of an apocalyptic wasteland trying to survive with the scraps he has left.
The Suns are still a team that can get hot from outside (I vividly remember this last year when they swept San Antonio, and they simply could not miss a thing), but without Amar’e (who also gave the Spurs fits, especially during the playoffs), they pose literally no threat to the well-balanced Spurs team.
The Suns could very well knock Memphis out of the picture, mostly due to Nash’s ability to make those around him better, but if they run into Spurs this year, expect a reverse of what happened last year when these two battled one another.
No. 2: Spurs vs. Utah Jazz
My have the Jazz fallen. While the Deron Williams trade might appear to be the smart move one-to-two years down the line, right now the state of Utah is in pain after letting go of their supposed franchise player. Devin Harris has shown flashes in the past that he has the ability to be a top-tier point guard, but unfortunately that has not happened, while questions continue to swirl concerning the future of Derrick Favors.
Right now the Jazz are two games back of being in the playoffs, which is not horrible considering all the drama that has occurred during the last month or so. One cannot help but think that if the Jazz somehow make the playoffs, they will just feel satisfied accomplishing that feat.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have the ability to be a formidable post-duo, but the Spurs actually match up very well against the Jazz big men, considering the fact that DeJuan Blair is just as big as Millsap is (which is huge, seeing that the Spurs appeared very under-sized after being slaughtered on the offensive boards by a hungry Lakers team on the sixth), and Jefferson has never been to the playoffs.
I really do not see the Jazz lasting more than five games if they run into the Spurs. You can sense that they need a full offseason in order to completely forget about everything that happened during this season. A team’s peace of mind and general security can never be underestimated.
The Spurs have that security, they have shown this all season long, and this will prove to be the defining factor should the two meet in these upcoming playoffs.
No. 1: Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Believe it or not, the Rockets are not that far out of the playoff picture. To this day I still do not completely understand the trade they made at the deadline, that being shipping Aaron Brooks to Phoenix in exchange for Goran Dragic and a first-round draft pick. Brooks’ speed coupled with Luis Scola’s craftiness in the post made the Rockets a tough team to go up against, with or without Yao Ming.
In my opinion, the Rockets got weaker at the point guard position, but substitute Kyle Lowry’s confidence and strongly-built frame for Brooks’ fast-paced game style, and the Rockets are not that much worse than they were.
This is a team that still plays defense at an above-average level, and Scola has proven to be an absolute beast as a player. However, the Rockets’ lack of size and experience when it comes to the playoffs are really no match for the Spurs.
The only way the Rockets deliver a shocker of a first-round series is if Lowry and the quick-shooting Kevin Martin (who torched the Spurs when he was with the Kings in 2007 during the first-round, although the Spurs still won the series in five games) get hot, and I mean real hot from the field.
With Yao, the Rockets could put up a fight and potentially give the Spurs a brutal, hard-fought seven-game series (they did it with the Lakers with a shot-happy Ron Artest a couple of years ago). Unfortunately Brad Miller is no Yao, and if the Rockets are somehow able to sneak into the playoffs, Tim Duncan could have a stellar series.
The Spurs have as good a chance as any team out West, or East for that matter, to win the title this year. Obviously, they would like to avoid facing teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The one later seed the Spurs should avoid is the Portland Trail Blazers. One could argue that the Blazers made the best move out of all the trade deadline transactions, acquiring Gerald Wallace for Joel Pryzbilla’s bad knees and picks. If Brandon Roy can play to even at least 75 percent of his potential, the Blazers are going to be tough. They are definitely the sleeper team out West right now, and they have handled the Spurs well before they traded for “Crash.”