The San Antonio Spurs have 82 games to play in the 2017-18 NBA season. Which 10 games should be considered the most important?
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the San Antonio Spurs will open the 2017-18 season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It will kick off the team’s latest attempt at an NBA championship, with their last one in 2014. This saw the Spurs defeat the Miami Heat in five games, along with the end of the Big 3 era in South Beach.
The 2017-18 season will be about redemption, as the Golden State Warriors slammed San Antonio in May’s Western Conference Finals. It resulted in a four-game sweep, along with Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury that caused him to miss part of Game 1 and the rest of the series.
There are 82 games to go through, however, before the 2018 playoffs begin. Work will need to be done to get to the postseason, including breaking through some of the toughest opponents in the NBA. That includes the 2017 NBA champions and the runner-up, along with a Western Conference saw multiple teams stack the deck. It’s in hope of creating the next superteam, one that stops the Warriors.
Plenty of games stand out for the Spurs in the 2017-18 season. There are 10 that do the most, ones that will give everyone their best look at what’s to come with this team. It starts with games near the start of the year and goes until the back end of the spring.
Let’s look at the 10 most important games for San Antonio this season. What’s the top matchup to look forward to?
10. Minnesota Timberwolves – Oct. 18, 2017
It starts with the first game of the season, as the San Antonio Spurs host the Minnesota Timberwolves at the AT&T Center.
Why Opening Night? Well, it will provide the first look at this Spurs team for the 2017-18 season. They won’t look too different from the squad that was seen in the spring, but it will be the debuts for Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne, Brandon Paul and Derrick White. All should provide bench roles.
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However, it’s also about the new-look Timberwolves that the Spurs will be the first to get a look at. This starts with the additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, two high-profile players at the wing and point guard, respectively. Butler was acquired via trade and Teague was signed in free agency.
These two will mesh with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, two of the most exciting young players in the NBA. It may not be an overnight success in Minnesota, but the first game will be telling to see where they’re at, with the Spurs as the guinea pigs to find this out and build a scouting report.
It’s a first look at both teams in the middle of October. This won’t define anyone’s season, but everyone will get an idea of what to expect for the season.
9. Philadelphia 76ers – Jan. 3, 2018
Obviously, every game against the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets could be the San Antonio Spurs’ most important games of the season. Even with a dropoff from the top of the league to the other teams, there are still intriguing squads to look forward to, and from the Eastern Conference.
The Philadelphia 76ers should be healthy for the first time in, well, years. Ben Simmons will be back from the foot injury that sidelined him for his rookie season; Joel Embiid will try to keep a clean bill of health on his knees; Markelle Fultz will debut as the No. 1 overall pick. Along with them, there’s Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor and the newly-signed JJ Redick.
This will give the Spurs a look at one of the NBA’s youngest and rising teams. No, it won’t decide playoff seeding or lead to a playoff matchup, but it pits a team full of veterans against a group of young players and rookies. This might be a matchup to look forward to more in 2019, once this Sixers team is seasoned and adds another lottery pick.
However, on Jan. 3 (and the 28th), the Spurs will get a look at the future of the NBA. If players like Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid pan out, this could be a feared opponent for years to come.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Nov. 17, 2017
This will be the San Antonio Spurs’ first look at the new Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook still remains, but Paul George was added in a blockbuster trade around the start of the summer. They’ll make for one of the league’s dynamic duos and a top team in the Western Conference.
George and Westbrook will go against the stingy defense of the Spurs, who should be healthy. No one will be in midseason for a while, but it will be interesting to see if San Antonio can slow down OKC’s top two players in their first try. That means a George vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup and Westbrook vs. Danny Green. The former will be the most intriguing on both ends of the court.
Like the early game against Minnesota, this one won’t define the Spurs’ season or give a clear indication of how these teams would fare against each other in the playoffs. Look for that later in the season. However, it’s still a feeler to see where the Spurs stand with athletic and dangerous Western Conference team, and to prep a potential gameplan for later in the season or the postseason.
Either way, look for an exciting matchup between two teams that will be near the top of the conference for the season’s duration.
7. Golden State Warriors – Nov. 2, 2017
This will be the first matchup against the Golden State Warriors for the 2017-18 season. There’s a case to make that it’s the most important of the year for the San Antonio Spurs, but neither team will be in midseason form and it won’t impact the standings as much as a game in February would.
For the Spurs, this is a revenge game. They’ll look to get by that series sweep in the Western Conference Finals. There’s arguably no way for San Antonio to avenge that loss, since the Warriors won the NBA championship and how this is only a regular season game. For team morale, if the Spurs need a boost, this is the time and place to do this.
This game on Nov. 2 will be at home, so the AT&T Center will be a raucous venue. The crowd gets behind the Spurs from the tip, with everyone looking for a healthy version of this team to get a look at the Warriors. Leonard’s Game 1 injury didn’t allow this before, so almost six months later there’s a second try.
This won’t be the most important matchup between the Spurs and Warriors. Look for that around the All-Star Break, when we know more about both teams.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jan. 23, 2018
Near the end of January, the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet for the first time. It will be the Kyrie Irving-less Cavs, who might not even have Isaiah Thomas around, depending on how severe these hip issues are.
It’s a game against LeBron James, though, which automatically makes it a game to circle on the calendar. James draws fans, the media, and usually brings a national television station with him. This will air on TNT, so that holds true.
Will this Cavs team be as good without Irving? They’ll deploy James, Thomas, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, JR Smith, Kyle Korver and a cast of other veterans that look somewhat similar to the team that made the NBA Finals. If IT is healthy and can top 20 points per game (he had 29 points last season), it will make the Cavs dangerous. They have plenty of scoring options, while the Spurs are more spread out, outside of Kawhi Leonard. It depends on if LaMarcus Aldridge’s production takes another dip, along with who steps up as the No. 3 scorer behind him and Leonard.
The Spurs will score plenty, there’s no doubt about that. If the Cavs are hot, though, can they match-up against some of the NBA’s best in point production?
While it’s an outside chance, there’s the possibility of this as an early NBA Finals preview. The Warriors would need to falter, which isn’t close to a given, along with Cleveland not missing a beat from the Irving trade. Keep an eye on this one in January.
5. Boston Celtics – Dec. 8, 2017
While the Cavaliers remain, the Boston Celtics will be the favorites to capture the Eastern Conference. Despite claiming the top seed in 2016-17, they overturned a chunk of the roster, including the very top.
On Dec. 8, the San Antonio Spurs will get a look at a trio that consists of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. It won’t be the first time, since these teams will play at the end of October, but given that chemistry has to develop for Brad Stevens’ squad, the December game will be a better opportunity to see the Celtics as a cohesive unit.
This is the second and final time the Spurs and Celtics will meet in the regular season, so if they meet in the NBA Finals, it would be a six-month wait. Both teams could look different by then, making the December game a chance for the coaching staff to develop its gameplan, even if minor, for a future matchup.
It’s a national television game, as well, so plenty of eyes will be on this star-studded showing.
As with Cleveland, Golden State’s potential downfall is the roadblock between a Spurs vs. Celtics matchup in June. It might take Popovich’s squad to do this in the second or third round of the playoffs.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder – Mar. 10, 2018
The next important game against the Thunder won’t happen until Mar. 10, 2018. It’s near the end of the regular season, with both teams in full form, and potentially before either coaching staff decides to start benching players for rest.
This is a Saturday night game on ABC. Unlike last year, the NBA will want the Spurs to keep the Leonard’s and Aldridge’s of the roster on the court, keeping the fan interest up instead of bench vs. bench for 46 minutes.
For this late in the season, the Spurs and Thunder might be battling for seeding in the Western Conference. It could be to get out of the Warriors’ way, if they’re the No. 3 and 4 seeds, No. 3 and 5, or another variation. The Road to the NBA Finals likely goes through Oracle Arena, but the longer that’s pushed off, the better for any team.
Like the other matchups, it will be Leonard on George and Westbrook on Green, defensively. Whether the Spurs can equal the offensive pace is unknown and depends on how the offensive food chain develops. There’s a long way to go before this happens, though, since it will happen in the final month of the season.
3. Houston Rockets – Dec. 15, 2017
Aside from the Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs’ most anticipated matchup will come against the Houston Rockets. James Harden remains, but the team added Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade before free agency starts. They make for arguably the NBA’s best backcourt.
On Dec. 15, the Spurs will get a look at Harden and Paul in their first regular season look. These teams will play at the end of the preseason, but it’s possible none of the star players take the court for this meaningless game. It puts an emphasis on the real matchup.
San Antonio and Houston will fight for Western Conference positioning for the entire 2017-18 season. Especially if it’s to be the No. 2 seed to Golden State. A game in December won’t make or break that but might be looked upon by March or April, once the standings start to materialize.
This should be a red-hot game in Houston that provides a preview of a playoff matchup or the start of a battle for positioning. Either way, it will be a fun game that happens at the quarter mark of the season.
2. Houston Rockets – Mar. 12, 2018
The second-most important game goes back to the Rockets. The San Antonio Spurs will face them on Mar. 12. The same goes for Apr. 1, but the game in the month prior should have more meaning.
The April game is among the last of the season. While the Spurs and Rockets might be battling for playoff seeding, Popovich could choose to rest key players, similar to what he’s done for years. If the NBA gets its away, that won’t be the case. Let’s assume Adam Silver’s planned discipline doesn’t get passed, for now.
This makes the Mar. 12 game important. It’s still early enough before Popovich starts to rest Leonard, Aldridge and others, and in a key part of the season. That may also mean the Spurs are fighting for the No. 2 or 3 seed in the West, which determines home-court advantage for the first two rounds, unless the Warriors lose before the Western Conference Finals.
Harden and Paul will be nearly one season into their partnership. Either it succeeds with flying colors or fails. Given the talent of these two, it should be a success.
Look for a high-stakes situation in Houston on the 12th. It might provide a difference in the playoff seeding.
1. Golden State Warriors – Feb. 10, 2018
The biggest game of the San Antonio Spurs season comes on Feb. 10, 2018, against the Warriors. It’s right in the middle of the year and just before the All-Star Break, a time for teams to get as much momentum possible. That will be the case here.
If both teams are healthy, this should be one of the most exciting games of the basketball year. It’s a Saturday night game on ABC, meaning a few million will be watching at home. All the media eyes will be on this, too, as a potential look at the 2018 Western Conference Finals. Not only that, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green will all be on the court. That alone will draw a few people.
This game will be back at the Oracle, a hostile environment, especially for a Saturday night game. The fans will be crazy, in support of the Warriors, as they look to distance themselves between the Spurs, depending on how the season goes to that point.
For all games against the Warriors, it will be interesting to see how the defensive matchups work. Leonard can guard Durant and Green on Curry. Outside of them, it may be a challenge and lead to the Spurs using a small ball lineup. That’s without Pau Gasol and limited use of Aldridge, which takes away the team’s No. 2 and 3 scoring options.
What are the most important games of the season for the Spurs?