Potential Playoff Matchups for the San Antonio Spurs

Oct 21, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12, left) and Kawhi Leonard (2, right) talk on the bench during the second half against the Houston Rockets at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 21, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12, left) and Kawhi Leonard (2, right) talk on the bench during the second half against the Houston Rockets at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

With the regular season winding down and the playoff picture a little more clear, we break down the possible playoff matchups for the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs bounced back from back-to-back losses with a much needed victory against the Sacramento Kings. Despite going down early, the Spurs surged back, scoring 37 points in the second quarter, and 41 points in the third quarter.

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The Spurs were led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting along with eight rebounds, one block and one steal. It was also a resurgent game for Tony Parker, who scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including seven assists and three rebounds.

The Spurs won, 118-102, improving their record to 53-16, 2.0 games back of the Golden State Warriors for first place in the West.

Ideally, the Spurs capture the one seed from the Warriors, drawing either the Denver Nuggets or the Portland TrailBlazers. However, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume the Spurs remain the number two seed in the Western Conference.

Here are the three potential matchups for the Spurs.

Memphis Grizzlies

We’ll start with the current seventh seed in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies, who just finished beating the Spurs for the second time this season on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies present an issue for the Spurs, particularly in terms of health. The Spurs will probably win the series in six or seven games, but it’s the beating the players will take in those six or seven games that worries me.

Pop on the current Spurs: "We're just not disciplined enough. We have to be more disciplined if we want to be the last team standing."

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 19, 2017

The Grizzlies allow 100.4 points per game, fourth in the NBA. In terms of defensive efficiency, they are fifth in the NBA, according to TeamRankings.

When you enter the “GrindHouse” for a playoff game, you can expect a physical, defensive battle.

As far as this season goes, the Grizzlies have beaten the Spurs twice, both of which coming in Memphis, and one of which coming without the services of Kawhi Leonard.

Both teams will face off two more times this season in San Antonio.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are currently in sixth place with a record of 40-29, 0.5 games up on the Grizzlies.

The Spurs and the Thunder have played twice this season, both teams winning on their home floor. The Spurs won the first matchup, 108-94, and lost the second matchup, 102-92.

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Russell Westbrook is on pace to average a triple-double this season, and the Thunder are a scary team when Westbrook is firing on all cylinders.

With players like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Taj Gibson, the Thunder a great rebounding team. The Thunder are currently averaging 56.0 total rebounds per game, first in the NBA. The Spurs are 21st with 51.1 total rebounds per game.

Overall, the Thunder go as far as Westbrook takes them, and the way it appears right now, they can cause some serious problems in a playoff matchup.

However, one has to assume that Gregg Popovich will come out with a game plan that limits Westbrook’s ability to involve his teammates. Westbrook can get his 30-40 points, but the Thunder are at their best when Westbrook is getting his teammates easy baskets.

The Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are currently sitting in fifth place at 41-29, 0.5 games ahead of the Thunder, and a 1.0 game ahead of the Grizzlies.

The Clippers and Spurs have played three times this season. The Clippers won the first matchup 116-92 in San Antonio, and the second matchup in Los Angeles, 106-101. The Spurs won the most recent matchup in Los Angeles, 105-97. They will play one more time in San Antonio.

Pop says multiple injuries this season have not allowed Tony Parker to find a rhythm so far this season.

Wants him to get it before POs.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 19, 2017

The Clippers are the most complete team of the three, and with a healthy squad, can be lethal on the offensive end. The Clippers are seventh in the NBA in points per game with 107.7, while the Spurs rank 12th at 106.5.

In the first two matchups, the Clippers scored 116 and 106 points. In their loss, they managed 97. If you go over 100 against the Spurs, you have a great chance of winning the game.

The combination of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan cause problems for the Spurs, who aren’t exactly the greatest rebounding team in the NBA. With a healthy Chris Paul, the Spurs can struggle at times to defend the pick-and-roll.

Ideal Matchup?

If the Spurs end up the second seed, they will draw a tough matchup, regardless of who it may be.

However, if the Spurs had their choice, it’d look something like this:

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. Memphis Grizzlies
  3. Los Angeles Clippers

If the Spurs had their choice, they would probably prefer to play the Thunder.

Why? The Spurs are arguably the best defensive team in the NBA and are well-suited to stop a one man wrecking crew. Granted, Westbrook is arguably the toughest guard in the NBA, but he doesn’t have much help on the offensive end.

The Spurs will likely look to double-team Westbrook, and force his teammates to create their own shots. If the Thunder win games with this strategy, the Spurs will live with the results.

However, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder beating the Spurs four times in a series, especially on the road, where the Thunder are 14-20. The Spurs would have home-field advantage.

Also, the Thunder lack depth, and anytime Westbrook leaves the floor, the Spurs second-unit can help extend the lead. Westbrook is spectacular, but even he has to sit at some point.

Kings Coach Joerger on the Spurs' depth: "They come at you in waves and waves, and they did a great job."

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 20, 2017

If not the Thunder, the Spurs will likely prefer the Grizzlies.

Why? The Grizzlies play grind-it-out basketball, a style of play that suits the Spurs. The Spurs make a living off their stout half-court defense, and are efficient in the half-court offense.

This matchup is bad for the Spurs because it would be a very physical series, which would plague the Spurs as they head into the second and third rounds (IF they make it).

To beat the Grizzlies, it will likely take six or seven hard fought games to do so.

Since the Spurs do have some aging players (Parker, Manu Ginobli, Pau Gasol), a tough series against the Grizzlies doesn’t bode well for their long-term health. Nevertheless, the Spurs have just enough firepower offensively, (IF healthy) to overcome the Grizzlies defense.

Most three-pointers by players 7'0" or taller in Spurs history:1. Pau Gasol- 38 (this season)2. David Robinson- 253. William Bedford- 1

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) March 20, 2017

The Spurs will likely try to actively avoid a first round matchup with the Clippers, their worst matchup out of the three teams.

The last time the Spurs met the Clippers in the playoffs? The first round of the 2015 playoffs, when the Clippers came back down from a 3-2 deficit to win the series in seven games.

Mind you, that Spurs team had Tim Duncan and a younger Parker. There is no apparent weakness to the Clippers starting rotation, and they can be lethal in the half-court, and running in transition.

To beat the Clippers, the Spurs would have utilize their depth, increasing leads when Paul and Griffin take their respective rests. Plus, a dominant series from Leonard on both ends of the floor.

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Overall, the Spurs are in good position to come out of the first round, primarily because their defense is stellar, especially when all their players are healthy and Popovich can utilize all of his rotations.

If the season ended today, the Spurs would play the Grizzlies. However, something tells me that the Grizzlies finish stronger than the Thunder, resulting in a Spurs-Thunder first round matchup.

If so, i’ll take the Spurs in 5.