May 2, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) reacts after scoring during the game against the San Antonio Spurs in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Dallas won 113-111. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Road blocks to a championship change every year. The San Antonio Spurs know this, but if they want to repeat, who must they target this coming season?
Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki highlight western obstacles
At this point after five championships the San Antonio Spurs know they can’t afford to look beyond the Western Conference before anything else. It is stacked with a myriad of good teams, all featuring star power in some shape or form. At least four teams could be considered direct threats including the Houston Rockets with their tandem of Dwight Howard and James Harden. Also there are the Los Angeles Clippers with a solid cast built around Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
However, a serious look at the landscape suggests the biggest problems for the Spurs reside in Oklahoma City and Dallas. The Thunder were dispatched in six games during the Western Conference Finals by San Antonio but they still have their formidable trio of Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibalka and of course Kevin Durant. They also added some outside shooting help in Anthony Morrow. If health is on their side this season, a rematch is certainly in the cards.
Then there is the Dallas Mavericks. Despite being an 8th seed in the playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki and his crew nearly killed the San Antonio Spurs in their bid for a fifth title. The Spurs escaped in seven games but since that time the Mavericks have worked hard to improve. Their biggest move might become the steal of free agency when they landed versatile 25-year old forward Chandler Parsons from Houston. His 16 points and five rebounds per game will be a huge help to Nowitzki as he vies for one more crack at the Spurs.
LeBron James and Chicago the twin towers in the east
As for the east? If the Miami Heat were the only consistent threat before, that conference has become a modern basketball version of the Wild West. There is no telling where the contender might come from. However, realistically there are three primary options. Of course it starts with LeBron James. Wherever he goes he is a threat to reach the Finals, even if it’s back to Cleveland, a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since he left. Still, by pairing with Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins the Cavs are instant contenders.
Then there are the Indiana Pacers. After two-straight conference championship appearances one would think they’re poised to take the next step but the team proved to be schizophrenic last season. At times they looked dominant and then for whatever reason looked very mortal down the stretch in the playoffs. To make things worse they still haven’t been able to bring back key free agent Lance Stephenson. Losing him would greatly diminish their chances of threatening the San Antonio Spurs, the team that throttled the Heat squad that dropped the Pacers in the Eastern Finals.
Perhaps the most intriguing team to watch in that conference is the Chicago Bulls. Though they failed to secure All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, they still managed to put together a roster replete with talent and depth. Among their additions include four-time All-Star big man Pau Gasol, European MVP Nikola Mirotic, and rookie 1st round pick Doug McDermott who finished fifth all-time in scoring in NCAA history. Throw in the return of Derrick Rose and the tandem of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, and the Bulls probably are as close to the spitting image of the Spurs in terms of their makeup.