The San Antonio Spurs will face Denver in the Alamo City in one of just two first-round series to get pushed to six games in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
Never count the San Antonio Spurs out.
Basketball aficionados and analysts across all platforms have preached that the Gregg Popovich-led Spurs are always a contender to pull off an upset in the first round, even with the odds stacked against them. Besides the Spurs/Nuggets series, the only other first-round series to reach this threshold is the Warriors/Clippers series that was pushed after Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell stole a victory in Oracle on Wednesday evening.
Even with uncertainty in the air, this Spurs unit has an opportunity to rally and defeat the second-seeded Nuggets in this series. With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the rest of the playoff bracket, especially in regard to the Western Conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers made easy work of the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, capped by a spectacular performance by Damian Lillard. The Rockets took care of business last night, putting the fifth seeded Utah Jazz’s playoff hopes to rest.
San Antonio needs to prepare for what comes next in the playoffs barring a defeat at the hands of Nikola Jokic and the rest of this rowdy Denver squad. Flying under the radar and performing as an underdog has brought great success to this team in the past, and could be a factor in their upset chances moving forward.
The primary task at hand is regaining some sense of the team’s identity and rallying in Denver, but Pop must take note of what else is going on around the league while other teams scout the Spurs in these final games.
Next: Logo Lillard and Portland could be a problem
Logo Lillard and Portland could be a problem
In four meetings this season, the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers split the series 2-2 with the home team winning each game. Previous conflicts between star point guard Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge were squashed during the regular season, and the two are once again able to reminisce about their days playing alongside each other.
If these two teams face each other in the second round, that amity will dissipate on the hardwood. Lillard has worked himself into MVP candidacy and solidified himself as an elite-level point guard by dropping 50 and eliminating OKC with an unbelievable buzzer beater in Game 5. Without a doubt, sophomore point guard Derrick White would have his hands full if these teams faced off.
Center Jusef Nurkic did an excellent job of containing Aldridge in the regular season, but a gruesome leg injury has left the borderline All-Star sidelined for the rest of the year. In his place, centers Enes Kanter and Meyers Leonard have taken bigger roles with Zach Collins filling in between the four and five. Aldridge should have a much easier time in a series against his former team than he’s had against the trio of Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee thus far in the playoffs.
Role players are crucial to the success of both of these teams. With each side rostering talented three-point shooters and playmakers off the bench, second-unit scoring could be the determining factor in a series between them. Unfortunately for San Antonio, their second-unit has been abysmal in the playoffs thus far and haven’t shown any sign of changing that through Game 5.
Portland isn’t as daunting defensively as the Nuggets have been, so there is some serious upset potential in a series between the third seed and seventh seed. The Blazers are highly impressive, but there are blatant holes for the Spurs to exploit should they reach the second round.
Next: Clash of the Titans: Harden vs. Durant
Clash of the Titans: Harden vs. Durant
Allow me to preface this by saying that the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the best storylines of the year. After trading their beloved duo of Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic to Philly near the trade deadline, this team has been expertly coached by Doc Rivers to the postseason once again. Unfortunately, they ran into the King Ghidorah of basketball teams with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson forming a three-headed monster.
Barring one of the most thrilling upsets in sports history, the Warriors will move to face reigning MVP James Harden and the Houston Rockets. These two opponents are highly familiar for the Spurs considering Golden State bounced them in the first round of last season and the Rockets are a division rival.
Regardless of who comes out of the Spurs’ side of the playoff bracket, the winner of this series will be the favorite to reach the Finals. Despite their low seeding, the Rockets have been phenomenal when fully healthy this season as Harden continues one of the most magnificent displays of offensive dominance this sport has ever seen.
This time around, the Spurs don’t have Manu Ginobili to save the day. If they get matched up against Houston in the second round, they’ll have to devise some kind of strategy to contain Mike D’Antoni’s three-point onslaught.
The same goes for Steve Kerr’s Warriors. Their shooting and athleticism combined with star power makes them the clear favorite to win the championship this year, even after the tragic injury suffered by star center DeMarcus Cousins.
Whether its Portland, Denver or San Antonio facing off against the winner of this series, they better hope that the loser has tired their opponent out before the Western Conference Finals.
Next: Checking in on former Spurs in the North
Checking in on former Spurs in the North
Kawhi Leonard’s ominous departure from San Antonio sent the loyal fanbase into disarray. After crowning The Klaw as the next face of the franchise by linking the Spurs of the past with the organization of the future, he tore the hearts from this fanbase by claiming mistreatment by the medical staff and shutting down his 2017-18 season.
General manager R.C. Buford found a fitting trade candidate in the Toronto Raptors and brought an All-Star caliber player, along with a first-round pick and a talented young shot blocker, for the distraught superstar. To make salaries work and entice Masai Ujiri, the Spurs had to sacrifice a fan-favorite in shooting guard Danny Green.
During his time as a Spur, Green proved himself to be a valuable leader, clutch performer and supreme perimeter defender. Between his work ethic and attitude, Green embodied what it means to follow the culture of this team. He’s carried this on with him to Toronto and had an excellent year, shooting 45.5 percent from three in the regular season.
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Danny had a rough go of it in the opening series against Orlando, shooting just 37.8 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point land through five games. Still, his steadfast defensive ability and precise execution has made him an excellent fit for Nick Nurse.
He’ll move on to face Jimmy Butler and the Philadelphia 76ers in a monumental second round for the Eastern Conference. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to a tougher matchup while regaining momentum.
As for Leonard, the superstar torched Orlando in the first round for 27.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on an insane 55.6/53.8/89.3 percent shooting split.
It’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out with Kawhi in San Antonio, especially considering that the fan base still never got any kind of explanation from this player that they devoted themselves to.
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Even so, the NBA is simply better when Kawhi Leonard is healthy and active, so the Alamo City will have to live with it and watch from a far.