San Antonio Spurs: 3 potential Opening Night matchups
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Who are the best options to face the San Antonio Spurs on Opening Night of the 2017-18 regular season?
On October 17, the 2017-18 NBA regular season will begin. That’s no guarantee it will be the start date for the San Antonio Spurs, as sometimes the NBA will put just a handful of teams on the first night of the year. However, given the success of the Spurs over the past two decades, they should be candidates for the 17th.
The 2016-17 season ended on a sour note for the Spurs. They had a successful regular season, getting the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and made it to the Western Conference Finals, to face the Golden State Warriors.
During Game 1, the Spurs were up by over 20 points. However, an ankle injury caused Kawhi Leonard to leave the game. He wouldn’t return that night — or for the rest of the series. The Warriors swept them, 4-0, and moved on to win the 2017 NBA Finals.
So the Spurs regrouped in the offseason, making a handful of changes to the team’s look. First, Derrick White and Jaron Blossomgame were selected in the 2017 NBA Draft. To follow that, they signed Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Brandon Paul in free agency. This also saw Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons leave for other destinations.
These changes will be part of the new-look Spurs for the 2017-18 regular season. They’ll potentially have to go against a top team to start the season, giving the NBA juicy matchups to kick off the latest year and get fans interested. Who could that be on Opening Night?
Next: Boston Celtics
3. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had one of the most interesting offseasons of any NBA team. They moved down from No. 1 overall to select Jayson Tatum, signed Gordon Hayward in free agency and traded long-time Celtic, Avery Bradley to clear cap space.
Hayward developed into the top player on the Utah Jazz, but left to join the Celtics in a weakened Eastern Conference. If he’ll put the team over the top will be a wait-and-see situation for the regular season.
Aside from Hayward, the Celtics vs. San Antonio Spurs would be a battle of the perceived No. 2 teams in the Eastern Conference, at least for the past 1-2 years. That may have changed in the offseason with other Western Conference teams making significant splashes, but given the history of Gregg Popovich’s teams, the Spurs shouldn’t be counted out as the second-best in the West.
While a Celtics vs. Spurs matchup may prove to be meaningless since it’s on Opening Night of the regular season, it would still provide a game of two of star players, with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Hayward all in action. It could make for a competitive showdown, whether it’s in Boston or San Antonio in October.
Next: Golden State Warriors
2. Golden State Warriors
Reliving the 2017 Western Conference isn’t something San Antonio Spurs fans will want to do. This saw the Golden State Warriors sweep them, 4-0, after losing Kawhi Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1, up by over 20 points. It changed the series and made the already-historic Warriors even more powerful.
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For the Spurs, an Opening Night matchup would potentially provide some revenge for May’s falter. They can show how a healthier team would fare against the Warriors, who had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green all in the game. Leonard and Tony Parker (who will miss part of the 2017-18 season) were absent, which left LaMarcus Aldridge to lead the way and struggle through the four games.
For next season, the Spurs should have Leonard, Aldridge, Rudy Gay and a full roster ready to face the Warriors on Opening Night. While it will be a different roster from last spring, it’s a chance to outshine the NBA champions for one night and provide a red-hot start to the season, one that will potentially lead to the latest playoff appearance for San Antonio.
One team tops the Warriors for Opening Night interest, however. An organization that will have a new look.
Next: Houston Rockets
1. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets broke out under head coach Mike D’Antonio who installed James Harden as the team’s point guard. It led to his best season in a near-MVP Award campaign. Harden had 29.1 points, a league-high 11.2 assists and 7.0 rebounds per game, all of which were a career high.
However, the Rockets received a significant boost at the point guard position. They parlayed multiple assets into Chris Paul, formerly of the Los Angeles Clippers. He exercised his player option for the 2017-18 season and was traded to Houston.
A backcourt of Harden and Paul is a potentially frightening one for opposing NBA teams. It’s two of the top players at their respective positions, and a duo that could lead one of the top teams in the league to the 2018 NBA Finals.
Next: Ranking the Spurs' 2017 offseason moves
For Opening Night, though, it would be intriguing to see a battle of the top NBA teams in Texas, with the San Antonio Spurs and Rockets locking up. It would be a viewer-grabbing game, with Paul on the Rockets and the interest of fans to see how he and Harden performs. This is also an opportunity for the Spurs to temper the hype around them, by showcasing a defensive effort that quiets the hype. It’s only for Opening Night, but if they pull off the win, it would leave the Rockets down early and be forced to make changes for their next matchup against San Antonio.