Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs and the Southwest Division

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Oct 20, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich watches from the sideline against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at AT&T Center. The Suns won 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After being eliminated from the playoffs and having their quest for title No. 6 put on hold, the San Antonio Spurs made some big moves and are looking to get revenge in the Western Conference, but it all starts with beating the Southwest Division.

The Western Conference has the defending champion in the Golden State Warriors and a collection of the league’s top teams, but the Southwest is easily the NBA’s toughest division.

Every year San Antonio battles with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies for supremacy, but the New Orleans Pelicans are coming on strong.

Sit back, relax and enjoy a breakdown of each team in the Southwest Division.

Dallas Mavericks | The Smoking Cuban

Oct 6, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) reacts on the bench during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. During the offseason, though, the Mavericks made some changes to their roster. Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton have joined Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons, while Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo headed elsewhere.

The preseason hasn’t been to kind the Mavericks, who haven’t won a game. However, the preseason is more about building chemistry and finding the right rotation.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is excited about what is to come. Per the team’s official website, Cuban said:

"“Our defense is going to be better, and we’re shooting the ball from three a lot more. And that’s with our young guys. Once the vets get in there, it will open things up more for them. … But we’ve got a lot of new, young guys that will be fun to watch. And then watching Dirk and Chandler and Wes and Deron, that’s going to be money right there. You know, that’s a (heck) of a top four.”"

Nowitzki is coming off of a season in which he averaged 17.3 points over 77 appearances, and Parsons added 15.7. The 28-year-old Matthews is recovering from an Achilles injury but reunites with his former teammate in Williams to lead the Dallas backcourt.

Houston Rockets | Space City Scoop

Oct 7, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles against the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2014-15 season, the Rockets were close to locking up the best starting five in the league. LeBron James decided to leave the Miami Heat and return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and everyone in Houston thought the franchise would win the services of Chris Bosh, an elite stretch 4.

Since the Rockets were locked into pursuing Bosh, though, the Dallas Mavericks stole Parsons away from Houston, who eventually missed on Bosh anyway. With the duo out of the picture, the Rockets ended up signing Trevor Ariza.

Harden brought the scoring punch to a lineup that featured three plus defenders in Patrick Beverly, Ariza and Dwight Howard, and the Rockets became one of the league’s most balanced teams.

​”I’m the best all-around basketball player in the NBA.” – James Harden

According to Yahoo Sports, Harden believes he’s the best all-around basketball player in the NBA. It’s hard to argue with his numbers. Harden produced career-high marks with 27.4 points, 7.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game last season.

He was also tops in the league in minutes played, points scored as well as free throws attempted and made. Night-in and night-out dominance from Harden, who now has a new teammate in pass-first point guard Ty Lawson.

Additionally, if Howard can return to his elite rim-protection defense after a injury-hampered campaign, the Rockets certainly could dominate the Southwest Division this season.

Memphis Grizzlies | Beele Street Bears

Oct 18, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) goes to the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of talk about the Southwest Division revolves around Houston and San Antonio, so Memphis is constantly an under-the-radar team.

The Grizzlies had a promising start to the 2014-15 season, opening with a 15-2 record. They continued that success, reaching 21-4 and then 37-12, but injuries to Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Tony Allen derailed the course of their season. Memphis ended up falling to the fifth seed and bowing out of the playoffs in the second round.

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I have always liked Conley and his game. From his college days running the point for Ohio State through his times in Memphis, he’s been a prototypical point guard. Before the All-Star break, Mike Conley shot 45.5 percent overall, including a 40.1 clip from three-point range, scored a 16.9 points per game and dominated stretches of games in ways fans had rarely seen him do before.

But what drives this team is All-Star center Marc Gasol, one of the most skilled big men in the league. Gasol netted 17.4 points—shattering his previous high of 14.6—grabbed 7.8 boards and dished 3.8 assists per game last season.

On opening night in 2014-15, he went for a career-high 32 points against Minnesota. He would go on to score 30 or more five times. While that number probably didn’t have you jump out of your chair, Gasol had only reached 30 points once in his first six seasons. Mind blown?

With Gasol and rebound-machine Zach Randolph working down low and Conley leading the backcourt, if healthy, the Grizzles and their physical style of play can make it a bruising night for opponents.

New Orleans Pelicans | Pelican Debrief

Oct 9, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (right) defends New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first quarter at Veterans Memorial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

While their season came to an abrupt end at the hands of Golden State, the Pelicans had no need to hang their heads—especially because the team’s best player Anthony Davis has become one of the league’s best players.

Last season, Davis finished fourth in the league with 24.4 points per game, as he shot an astounding 53 percent from the field. Davis ability to consistently knock down shots from anywhere on the court is one reason he’s a rising star.

New Orleans has a solid projected starting lineup that includes Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik and Davis. However, Holiday, Evans and Asik are each battling injury heading into 2015-16, leaving the team’s most injury-prone player as the only healthy starter other than Davis.

Gordon is coming off a season where he played the second-most games during his four-year New Orleans tenure—yet he was out for nearly two months with a torn labrum. Nevertheless, Gordon and Holiday—who is on a minutes restriction for now—merely need to complement the best combo forward in the league.

Matt Cianfrone of Pelican Debrief notes Alvin Gentry will look to limit Davis’ minutes. Since injuries are constantly affecting the team, Gentry’s long-term outlook with Davis is the right choice.

New Orleans’ level of success is dependent on what comes from the supporting cast. Davis will get his, but the others cannot rely on the superstar to do everything.

San Antonio Spurs | Air Alamo

Oct 18, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (L) shares a laugh on the court with teammate LaMarcus Aldridge (R) during the first half against the Detroit Pistons at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

All eyes are on this team.

The 2014-15 season brought another great regular-season performance from the aging Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as well as budding star Kawhi Leonard. However, the Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

San Antonio typically doesn’t make a lot of noise during the offseason, but it did in 2015. The team traded Tiago Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks to clear cap space to sign Aldridge, locked up the roster’s future in Leonard on a five-year extension and kept Danny Green on a team-friendly four-year deal.

Duncan and Ginobili both re-signed for a discounted price on what will likely be the final contracts of their careers. Lastly, David West opted out of a $12 million deal with the Indiana Pacers and inked a one-year veteran’s minimum contract with the Spurs.

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San Antonio “won” the offseason and is now prepared for another run at title No. 6.

The starting five of Parker, Green, Leonard, Aldridge and Duncan have the perfect blend of offense and defense. Although it may take some time to build chemistry when adding another star like Aldridge to the lineup, there’s little doubt the Spurs won’t adjust.

Plus, while the bench unit of Ginobili, West, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Kyle Anderson might struggle on defense at times, the lineup is going to score a lot of points.

Despite what fans want to hear, each member of San Antonio’s Big Three is reaching the end of his career. Yet the 2015-16 season could be as good a position as the Spurs has ever been to make a run at raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Next: It's Fitting Gregg Popovich Will Coach Team USA

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