Ranking The San Antonio Spurs’ Potential Playoff Opponents

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San Antonio Spurs: Ranking The Potential First Round Foes

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA playoff landscape is finally starting to take shape.

We now have a clear idea of who the contenders are out West (San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers).

We also know who will be fighting it out for the rest of the playoff spots (Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns).

As of now, we think its fair to write off the Minnesota Timberwolves. They simply have too many losses and are too beat up to get back into the playoff mix, which, as it stands, will still leave one quality team out of the playoffs.

Assuming the Spurs will be a top-four seed, Featured Columnist Nick Elizondo and I have emailed each other back and forth so we can try to take a look at all the possible match ups and scenarios that San Antonio could face in the first round.

(These teams are ranked by who San Antonio would rather face in the first round from most preferable to least. Each match up is also given a star ranking for entertainment value, as well as a predicted series result and MVP.)

****All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats

Dallas Mavericks

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Elizondo:

The Dallas Mavericks would be a favorable match up for the Spurs because age isn’t an issue for San Antonio when it comes to Dallas.

Dirk Nowitzki is 35, so is Shawn Marion; Vince Carter is 37.

Beyond Monta Ellis and Dirk, I just don’t see any consistent, viable options from Dallas. Vince has a good game once in awhile, but cutting off those primary two would put the Mavs in a panic.

Of course, easier said than done; but the Spurs are an extremely tough defensive unit while the Mavs aren’t quite there on either defense or offense.

Rhys Tong-Jones:

You’re forgetting old man Jose Calderon!

But, realistically, you’re right, the age difference won’t be a big issue because other than Ellis, the Mavs don’t run up and down the court too much.

I think they might be able to scrape one win away from San Antonio, because Dirk will have one of those nights. But Kawhi Leonard matches up fairly well defensively with Nowitzki, as well as Duncan if the Spurs want to play big.

The Mavs will have to put Marion on Tony Parker to slow him down, (Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis aren’t any use here) which means Kawhi will have a mismatch. His post game is good enough to take care of smaller men in the post, and we all know he can hit threes over any “big” who tries to venture far out from the rim.

At least this match up would be good for the historical rivalry and might cause some bad blood! And the return of DeJuan Blair is a nice storyline, but all told the Spurs should win this matchup in a sweep.

NE:

I say we do 4-1 Spurs? Give the Mavs a win at home when Dirk and Ellis go off and the Spurs aren’t quite hitting the 3 or turning it over a lot. Series MVP? Tony?

RTJ:

Okay, I’ll give you the one Mavs win, maybe in game 3 in Dallas. Series MVP has to be Tony Parker here. Marion won’t be able to stay on him all the time, the matchups just won’t work, so once he’s free, he’ll clean up.

Record so far: 3-0 with one game remaining

Prediction: 4-1 Spurs

Series MVP: Tony Parker

Entertainment: 4/5 stars

Phoenix Suns

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NE:

The next team I think the Spurs would want to match up against would be the Phoenix Suns. Although the Spurs were obliterated by them in the last game, and Phoenix swept the Spurs last time they met in the playoffs in 2010 (including a big game 3 from Dragic), this just isn’t the same Suns team that the Spurs had trouble with. Its a brand new roster filled with such a young core.

They could give the Spurs trouble here and there but this should be another series win for the Spurs. Experience and the arsenal of options will be too much for the Suns. Even with Hornacek potentially winning Coach Of The Year, he will be out-coached by Pop.

RTJ:

The Suns may be the surprise story of the season and exceeding pre-season expectations by a huge distance, but they really are no huge threat to the Spurs. I would love for them to do well this season, just because Dragic, Green and the Morris’s (Morisses? Morissi? I’m trying to say both Morris brothers…) are so much fun to watch. The thing is, they have very little playoff experience, and are really over-achieving at the minute.

When it comes down to playoffs, I trust Coach Pop to make the necessary adjustments to shut everyone (especially Dragic) down, and allow the Spurs’ superior talent to show through.

One underrated thing Spurs fans maybe should be worried about is Channing Frye‘s outside shooting abilities. That dude can hit threes over smaller defenders, and bigger defenders don’t like running around on the perimeter.

NE:

Maybe we will get to see some Austin Daye guarding Frye? Same height but much more athletic. If the Spurs can survive the Warriors 3 point bonanza (like in the playoffs last year) then I think they can withstand Channing Frye‘s; I could even see putting Kawhi on him and Danny Green on Gerald Green.

I just don’t think the Suns can stop the Spurs on defense; the Spurs offense is just too much for their very subpar D.

The run and gun series could tire San Antonio out a little but the Spurs will have a good break before their first round, and recently they have adapted to that style of play much more than the old years of grind it out basketball.

I say 4-1, 4-2 Spurs. The dual PG backcourt (if healthy) of Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could go off one day, but putting Danny and Kawhi on each of them will be too much length for those players to fight past for a whole series. The key will be to suffocate them, like what the Spurs did with Steph Curry.

RTJ:

Oooh, Austin Daye! I like that match up for the Spurs. Two skinny, tall guys battling is always funny. I actually forgot they have Bledsoe! It will be interesting to see how he fits with the team when he gets back (is he back yet? I don’t even know). I think 4-1 but 3 close wins for the Spurs, plus a blowout. Dragic historically kills the Spurs, and will win a game singlehandedly – I mean like a 35 point, 12assist game on only 18 shots. He’s definitely capable of it, and backcourt defence isn’t the Spurs forte. But similarly, inside D isn’t the Suns strength so I predict a Duncan series MVP with an average of about 21 and 11.

NE: Bledsoe started practicing again, should be back soon, but that doesn’t mean that he will be as good as before! Dragic does usually play well against the Spurs. I can see Kawhi shutting him down though. Leonard’s confidence is growing and he is becoming more dangerous with each game. Even Coach Pop called him “a bad man”.

I agree with Duncan, he will man handle the inexperienced Len, Plumlee, and Morris twins all game. He’s too smart and those guys haven’t matched up against him enough.

The only thing is, if the series is a true run-and-gun then you might be surprised with my answer of Kawhi as the series MVP. He will grab a lot of rebounds and with Channing in, we could see Kawhi guarding him as power forward and perhaps grabbing more boards than usual.

RTJ:

Right, we’ll give MVP to Duncan, but honourable mention to Kawhi in case it becomes high octane, run-and-gun basketball.

Record so far: 2-1 with one game remaining

Prediction: 4-1 or 4-2 Spurs

Series MVP: Tim Duncan (unless small-ball prevails, then we chose Kawhi)

Entertainment: 3/5 stars (unless small-ball prevails, then we chose 4/5)

Memphis Grizzlies

Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

RTJ:

So this is where we start to disagree. I have the Memphis Grizzlies as more of a threat than the Warriors, but you insist the Spurs have cleansed the demons from that fateful 1vs.8 playoff series. Personally, I think the dangerous thing about Memphis is the size that they have had for a few years now, plus now they have added some decent outside shooting from James Johnson, Mike Conley, and Courtney Lee (edit: I forgot Mike Miller! oops). That’s a dangerous combination, and I think they would be fighting for homecourt had they not lost Marc Gasol (the reigning DPOY) to injury for such a long time.

NE:

Zach Randolph isn’t as good this year as he was the year that they beat the Spurs, and he’s shooting his worst percentage since joining the Grizzlies. 45.8 percent from the field for a big man is atrocious and he’s not much of a defensive threat either. The big difference is Duncan’s ability to hit those mid range shots. It spreads Randolph and Gasol out, so they can’t clog the paint with their strength.

I don’t think Marc is much of a threat because this season his game has really dropped, whether it’s injury, fatigue, or whatever else that is preventing him from being his usual self. Averages of 6.7 rebounds per night for a 7’1 center? Might as well call him Brook Lopez. Not to mention he’s shooting only 46.3 percent as well. Both big men have seen their shooting, rebounding, and defense go down.

They aren’t the same guys who “upset” the Spurs. They aren’t even in the playoffs at the moment. Spurs had them figured out last year with a nice sweep and this season they have already won the series.

Shane Battier was also an important member of the Grizz in the playoff series they beat the Spurs. They tried to replace him with Tayshaun Prince but that hasn’t really worked out for them. Mike Miller also isn’t half the defender Shane was, despite being a decent long-range bomber.

Mike Conley is averaging a career high in scoring and still dishes out 6 assists not to mention he’s a great defender, but again, 43.8 percent shooting isn’t much of a worry for the Spurs. If the Grizzlies turn it on in playoffs then maybe 4-2 Spurs or if they really get it going then 4-3 Spurs, in which I can see them playing better in playoffs than the Suns. But, I don’t see them beating the Spurs in any way. This is a new and better Spurs team than in 2010 especially with Boris and Kawhi joining.

RTJ:

I guess if you put it that way… I still think Gasol’s impact is underrated, and Mike Conley would have been an All-Star in the East. I see the Spurs getting a 4-2 win here, if only because they won’t be up for the 4 consecutive physical battles that it takes to beat the Grizz, even with the rest that the playoffs afford. I do think that Tony Allen has lost a step, or just hasn’t turned it up which could mean Ginobili gets a few easier points.

Regardless of the final outcome of this series, the Spurs will be hurting (physically or emotionally) when it’s over. They did sweep the WCF last year from Memphis though… Okay fine I’m with you, the Spurs shouldn’t be too concerned here.

What about series MVP? I think it could be Kawhi. Conley will slow down TP, Gasol and Randolph will be decent on Timmy, but they really don’t have anyone to defend Leonard. He could averag 18, 7, and 4 with great D and a couple of blocks and steals. That should be enough for him to scrape out the award. Your thoughts?

NE:

Kawhi could definitely win the MVP here or even Tony after that 18 assist explosion he put up against them last year. He could still get his way with Conley, especially off the pick and roll. Zach and Gasol aren’t fast enough to contest that jumper and recover, so Tony can either hit the little midrange shot that he loves, or pass to the open man.

But Kawhi would be a safe bet, he’s too strong and athletic in my opinion for Tayshaun to handle. He has similar length to Prince as well, so it’s not like he would be towered over by Prince’s 6’9 height.

RTJ:

He also has huge hands – the second biggest ever measured at the NBA draft. Second to who you say? Well, none other than our boy…. THE SLEEPY MAN!!!!

Record so far: 3-0 with one game remaining

Prediction: 4-2 Spurs

Series MVP: Kawhi Leonard

Entertainment: 2/5 stars

Golden State Warriors

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

RTJ:

Now on to my danger team: the Golden State Warriors. Quick fire question: who is the best defensive team in the West? You might guess OKC (wrong). Maybe guess the home team, San Antonio? (Wrong again) Possibly the Kings??? (Ok, I’m joking). No the Warriors – the same Warriors with a back court called the Splash Bros – are the best defensive team in the Western Conference, and one of only 3 teams currently holding opponents under 1 point per possession.

They’re also extremely capable of getting hot in a hurry, especially from deep, as the Spurs know, which is why they worry me. They haven’t been healthy all year, but their starting five is very tough. The bench has been their weakness, but everyone knows benches and depth become less important in the playoffs. Steph Curry is absolutely the best shooter in the game right now, maybe even of all time. He is someone that the Spurs will struggle to hold down.

NE:

They are the best defensive team in the West… for now. But don’t forget the Spurs have been playing with half a team for half the season.

Bench players may not be that important come playoff time, but Spurs are capable of tiring teams out with their deep rotation. They are always putting fresh legs in there who are ready to run, so the Warriors will need to make subs or they will tire out. Honestly I see the Warriors having trouble if you cut off the head of the snake, which of course is Curry. Definitely easier said than done, but that’s the adjustment the Spurs made last year and they know it works almost every time. No one else on the team is capable enough to carry the offense and Curry is prone to turning it over a lot. Don’t forget, the Spurs beat a fully healthy warriors without Danny, Manu, Tony, and Duncan. Live by the three, die by the three. Warriors are definitely a danger but not one that can’t be conquered.

Hopefully Green and Kawhi can play defense against them like they did last year. Those guys have too much length for Curry to handle and Klay isn’t the best defender, so if he guards Tony again, Parker can get him in some quick foul trouble.

RTJ:

You are right the Spurs beat a fully healthy Warriors team in Golden State by 2, even without Duncan and Parker. But they also only won by two at home with a (basically) fully healthy team against a Curry-less Warriors team.

Don’t forget, the Warriors also added Andre Iguodala from last year! And if Curry is on the bench or cold, Iggy can absolutely run the offence for a 5 minute stretch. And they can also dump it into David Lee who, while not “Hakeem the Dream”, can score and pass from the post. I think what will be important in these games will be Andrew Bogut‘s ability to stay on the floor in close games. He gets hurt a lot, and also is an awful career foul shooter (something like less than 50 percent). In close games, Hack-A-Bogut is definitely an option, and behind him the Warriors have…. Jermaine O’Neal? Or small ball with Harrison Barnes at PF, and Lee sliding over to C? Neither are great options for them. I think the Warriors starting 5 will outscore the Spurs significantly over the series, but the rest of the team will let them down. I predict another 4-2 for the Spurs.

NE:

Iggy is a 4th option on that team and he is primarily there for defense – which I honestly think he might have lost a step in. He isn’t the same dominant Iggy we are used to, he doesn’t even put up 10 a game at the moment. David Lee would be a new option this year since he got hurt last year, but it was the small ball that hurt the Spurs. Spurs are plenty capable of handling big men.

Well, Bogut needs to remain healthy and stay out of foul trouble which is very hard while guarding Duncan; he does a great job at drawing fouls. David Lee‘s defense could hurt the Warriors as well. He’s great offensive player, but lacks at the other end.

The Spurs will cut off the head of the snake for sure, which will make Coach Mark Jackson experiment a lot – something he isn’t necessarily very good at and doesn’t have time for. I agree 4-2 Spurs again just like last year.

RTJ:

Well Iggy doesn’t score much anymore, BECAUSE he’s the 4th scoring option on his team. But his play-making skills are still great – 4.3 assists per game while sharing the rock with “Curry the Ballhog”. Igoudala has a usage rate of 13.7 percent, so he rarely has the ball in his hands. But he does the little things for the team: he makes the extra pass for the hockey assist, he dives for loose balls, and he guards the other teams best player night in and night out. When he plays, the Warriors score 109.3 points and give up 95.5 points per 100 possessions. That means per 100 possessions, Golden State outscore the other teams by almost 14 points. That crazy!!!! if you don’t appreciate what he does then your also crazy. He absolutely could be key for a Warriors upset.

Duncan isn’t any better than other elite bigs at causing foul trouble, so I’m not sure that’s a big concern. Health is a bigger worry I imagine. A fully healthy Warriors squad matches up nicely with a fully healthy Spurs squad.

While Mark Jackson has done a great job of transforming these Warriors into an unbelievable defensive squad, his in-game coaching just isn’t up to the standard of Pop’s. I’m not sure he can make the right adjustments when Tony is killing his man, or Duncan is hitting the glass too hard. That is the sort of thing that separates the good coaches from the great coaches, and it definitely favours the Spurs in this one.

I honestly think Steph Curry could be series MVP here, even if they lose. So my vote is Curry, and 4-2 spurs, but I’m open to some suggestions.

NE:

Well Curry still gets a lot of assists, but he does tend to over dribble which leads to high turnover totals, so cutting him off would just give the Warriors trouble.

While Iggy does the little things, I don’t think that will be enough to carry the Warriors over the Spurs. The main reason last year that the Spurs were having trouble with them was because the Warriors were draining threes left and right. Once those weren’t falling, they really weren’t too good.

I just don’t see a Warriors upset; there is a reason they aren’t doing that well this year. Yeah, injury is a big part of it but another part may be Jackson and if he’s the best fit as a coach for that team. Sure anything is possible, someone has to win the series, but I think the Spurs have the advantage over the Warriors. The addition of Steve Blake was smart for the Warriors, but he’s not enough to make too big of a difference against a team like San Antonio.

No doubt in my mind Curry CAN get the MVP of this series, but generally your team should be winning to be most valuable anything. We haven’t given Manu an MVP option yet and I think it would be fair to consider him for this series’ award. He would come off the bench, fresh and ready to go. I can see him being a key facilitator in this series if Golden State are constantly focusing on Parker. Ginobili, Belinelli, and Mills will definitely be ready to wreak some havoc.

Final thoughts: 4-2, possibly 4-3 Spurs. If the Spurs did happen to lose this series there is no doubt it would come down to a game 7. This series would definitely be one of the more entertaining of the whole playoffs.

Record so far: 2-0 with two games remaining

Prediction: 4-2 Spurs

Series MVP: Manu Ginobili if GSW win 2 or less games. Steph Curry if they win more.

Entertainment: 4/5 stars

Portland Trailblazers

Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

RTJ:

This is the least likely of all scenarios, because for this to happen we have to assume that the Spurs fall to the 4th seed, meaning they get a tough matchup with the 5th seed. That 5th seed looks like it will be the Portland Trailblazers (Clippers cannot fall below the 4th seed, because they will be division champions, and Houston looks too good to fall). Obviously the Blazers would be the toughest of these match-ups that we’ve looked at so far, given that they are really a tier above the other teams.

The Blazers, like the Suns, have come out of nowhere and have spent a large chunk of the season atop the NBA and Western Conference standings. Since the All-Star break they have come back down to Earth, but they still rank in the top 5 for offensive efficiency this season. LaMarcus Aldridge has had a great season, Lillard has been super-clutch, and the role players around them have all improved their games significantly since last year.

I love Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum. They are both players who can be key contributors to any team with championship aspirations. More importantly they both fit the system in Portland perfectly, as their shooting (especially Matthews) and playmaking (especially Batum) has given new life to this Portland offence. To top it all off, they are both above-average defenders. Whats not to like?

How do you think the Spurs will match up defensively with their starting 5? Duncan on Aldridge? Kawhi on Lillard? I really don’t know.

NE:

Blazers are definitely a tough matchup because they are seriously just like the Spurs when you think about it. You have your defensive centers with Lopez and Tiago, your incredible power forwards with Aldridge and Duncan, Kawhi and Batum are both defensive specialists, the 3 and D with Matthews/Green (although Matthews is a better creator), and the speedy point guards. For the Spurs to pull out a win in this series it will all come down to the bench and defense.

RTJ:

I think Kawhi is probably a better defender than Batum, although Batum is a much better creator, so it will be interesting to see what happens there. If Kawhi stays on Batum for defensive purposes, we can probably call that matchup a wash. But it does mean that both teams will have one less defensive option for their opponent’s star PGs and PFs. Kawhi could match up with Aldridge if San Antonio goes small.

I hate to say it, but this might be another series where the Spurs’ starters aren’t quite as good as the Blazers’ starters. But the Spurs have Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw off the bench (not to mention Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli), and Portland only really has Mo Williams as a decent option outside of the starters.

It will be interesting to see if Pop puts Danny Green on Lillard (meaning TP has to chase Wes Matthews around screens all night). It might be worth saving TP’s energy by putting him on the ball defensively, and maybe giving up those few extra points. Duncan on Aldridge will be the starting matchup, but again Duncan will be so tired (and less able to play help D) if he is guarding Aldridge all night every night. Hopefully we will see some small-ball with Kawhi or Boris on Aldridge when Lopez is out of the game – although Portland are the best rebounding team in the league so San Antonio will have to make sure that EVERYONE crashes the boards defensively.

Whatever happens with the match ups, these will be some close fought games. We both agreed that Stotts has done a great job coaching so far this season, but some of his in-game decisions are questionable. That alley-oop attempt to Lillard vs Houston with 8.8 seconds remaining and the score tied? Best case scenario is that they go up by 2 with 7 seconds left on the clock – plenty of time for Harden to hit ANOTHER dagger (he had just hit a well guarded 3 to tie it). When you have as clutch a player in your team as Damian Lillard (who hadn’t fouled out yet), you have to put the ball in his hands.

The whole point of my little rant here is that I can see Pop again making the in-game coaching decisions that sway this series, even though the talent level is so similar. So I am going to say 4-3 Spurs, and Coach Pop is MVP (I’m cheating, I know).

NE:

Kawhi is the much better defender – no doubt. Batum is an excellent creator although I feel Leonard has a stronger post game which can be convenient in a small ball setting. I can see Green getting a go on Batum as well, where I can’t imagine him doing too badly, but very intriguing nevertheless.

As for the defensive match-ups, Green will most certainly get some time on Lillard, maybe switching with Leonard if either are struggling. Patty Mills has grown as a defender and is very pesky. He can work around those screens with his speed and slim body. Tony, Patty, and Manu are smart enough to get some offensive fouls called on those screens as well.

At least Aldridge will be in the post a lot so if he doesn’t run around too much then Duncan won’t get too tired out. Also a rotation of Tiago, Boris, and Duncan should be fresh enough to keep the pressure up on Aldridge. The key is being aggressive with him but making sure to be smart, because he is a very good free throw shooter.

I can’t even begin with Stotts decisions on in-bounds, both defensively AND offensively! Before the end of the 3rd quarter, with .8 seconds it was quite obvious you need to stop an alley-oop to Dwight Howard and that is exactly the play that Houston ran. The only person guarding Dwight on the attempt was Mo Williams so that wasn’t hard for Howard to grab the pass and put in the quick layup. Even though the basket was waved off because the clock didn’t start at the right time, the decision making and execution was poor, and that comes down to the coach. And like you said with the 8.8 seconds left in regulation, that was one of the worst coaching decisions I have seen in awhile. I feel embarrassed that I put him on my COTY list. This young coach will be out coached all day by Pop so hopefully (for the Blazer’s sake) their players can play tough and use their own basketball IQ.

Choosing Pop for MVP is a cop out, so I’m going to insist we pick a player and I’m leaning towards Manu. He will lead the second unit, and we all saw what Patty was able to do in the second half against them a few weeks ago with 24 points off the bench.

RTJ:

I think when Manu plays he will have one of Batum or Matthews guarding him, so if we are going to have to give it to a player, Tony should get it. Not because I think he’s better, but just because its easier to put up good numbers with Damian Lillard on you than it is with one of those wing players. Similarly, Mo Williams isn’t staying in front of anyone anymore really. Im making an executive decision and giving the MVP to Parker.

NE:

I really can’t argue with that decision. Also, Aldridge is not good at hedging on the pick and roll so he normally sits back which means Tony’s patented little floater will be on non-stop. I feel like the Spurs are starting to figure the Trail Blazers out after watching their last game. The ball movement and aggression helped the Spurs build a good lead and even though Parker was having a horrible game, the Spurs were still in complete control. Leonard just edged the SF matchup finishing the game with 12 points on 8 shots, and threw in 9 rebounds for good measure, vs the 13 points on 11 shots put up by his counterpart – Nicolas Batum. The bench stepped up, the defense stepped up, and the Spurs just played some nice Spurs basketball. Even Mills was going at it with Lillard and showing him that he can be the streaky shooter as well.

The main worry is if the Trail Blazers get their game clicking again, then that can cause the Spurs some problem and the Spurs would definitely want home advantage in this matchup (which they are likely to get). Like I said in my keys to victory, San Antonio needs solid bench play, decent defense, and at least one of the key role players to step up. A fully healthy, clicking Spurs team is too much for the Blazers right now, but if Portland gets back to their peak like how they were playing in the first half of the season, they can be scary good.

My final thoughts on series outcomes: 4-1 Spurs if the Trail Blazers stay mired in their slump. 4-3 Spurs if they get back to early season form, but the Blazers could absolutely come up with the upset. If the latter is the case, then I can only hope that Portland’s lack of experience in playoffs, for both the coaches and players, could be a huge advantage for the Spurs. I’m expecting a great series nonetheless.

Record so far: 2-2

Prediction: 4-3 Spurs

Series MVP: Tony Parker

Entertainment: 5/5 stars

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