May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (left) and guard Russell Westbrook (right) before the game against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Many obstacles stand in the way for the San Antonio Spurs to capture that long-elusive repeat title. Here are the rankings of the top threats.
#1 – Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant has chosen to rest from Team USA, which clearly signals he’s gearing up to go all out this coming NBA season. Russell Westbrook is back to his All-Star form and Serge Ibaka should stay healthy. Along with the addition of Anthony Morrows on the perimeter, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the talent and experience to take down the Spurs.
#2 – Dallas Mavericks
San Antonio has grabbed all the glory for knocking LeBron James and the Heat off their perch. So quickly does everyone forget that Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks did it first. They also pushed the Spurs to seven games back in May and have added more firepower with free agent Chandler Parsons.
#3 – Chicago Bulls
One might call them the Eastern Conference version of the Spurs. Indeed the Chicago Bulls are a team built around defense, passing and using the entire roster from the starters to the bench. Thanks to a series of free agent and draft moves they are loaded in the front court with Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah. Add in a healthy Derrick Rose and a bench teaming with shooters and this team looks ready for a run.
#4 – Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s easy to peg a team that just landed LeBron James and will soon add Kevin Love as instant title favorites. However, it’s important to remember that James will be the only player on that roster with any sort of considerable playoff experience. Never mind lingering concerns the team has with depth and defense. Still, it’s a formidable group.
#5 – Los Angeles Clippers
Distractions with the Donald Sterling mess really hampered the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs last season. That should no longer be a problem in the months to come. Doc Rivers has his system in place and a formidable lineup built around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They just need to stay healthy.
#6 – Houston Rockets
Hopes are high that the addition of free agent Trevor Ariza can help solve the defensive issues the Houston Rockets have suffered the past couple seasons. The loss of Chandler Parsons hurts, but James Harden and Dwight Howard remain confident there is enough in place for a run.
#7 – Golden State Warriors
Their venture to acquire Kevin Love appears over, but the Golden State Warriors were already a rising team before that aggressive pursuit. Stephen Curry is one of the great offensive weapons in the league and Klay Thompson is fast becoming a great two-way compliment with shooting prowess. Throw in the sturdy Andre Iguodala and they can do more than just pull of the occasional upset.
#8 – Portland Trail Blazers
A team that has always sort of lingering the background, posing threats to teams that didn’t take them seriously. Houston learned that the hard way when Damian Lillard, Lamarcus Aldridge and crew took them down in six games during the postseason. The Spurs cannot afford to make that same mistake.
#9 – Phoenix Suns
Much of this depends on whether they can get back Eric Bledsoe but the Phoenix Suns have quietly assembled a young and talented roster with names like Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. They aren’t at the level of San Antonio in terms of experience but remain dangerous if brushed off as a non-issue.
#10 – Miami Heat
Their championship aspirations took a devastating hit when LeBron left town, but team president Pat Riley used his cap space wisely to rebuild the Miami Heat roster quickly. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade remain in place and are joined by Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. It may be a second tier playoff team, but crazier things have happened. The San Antonio Spurs know this better than most.