Just over a month until the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. Which teams pose the toughest test for the San Antonio Spurs as they chase their record-breaking 23rd straight playoff appearance.
A longstanding tradition of winning is at the core of San Antonio Spurs culture. Teamwork, selflessness, all-for-one one-for-all mentality are defining characteristics of one of the greatest sports teams of the modern era.
Even after some hiccups with the Kawhi Leonard drama, the Spurs still found a way to win even with the odds stacked against them. After fighting to the 7th seed in the Western Conference, a 7-game exit to the Denver Nuggets led to another long offseason for the Spurs to reload and prepare for 2019-20.
Adding Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson in the 2019 NBA draft, re-signing Rudy Gay, and adding a solid veteran in DaMarre Carroll has the Spurs positioned for another solid year. With the emergence of Derrick White, the return of Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV growing as a second-year player there is a lot to look forward to.
The franchise has still maintained an aura of winning consistency after Tim Duncan‘s retirement and Leonard’s trade. While the ‘Spurs Way’ stands strong, other teams are emerging as powerhouses in the Western Conference.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining forces in Los Angeles with the Clippers, the Nuggets becoming a year older and gaining valuable playoff experience, and Russell Westbrook moving to Houston there is a lot standing in San Antonio’s way.
Let’s take a look at the toughest matchups facing the Spurs this season.
Next: Team #5
#5: Houston Rockets
Home in San Antonio: December 3rd, April 12th
Away at Houston: December 16th, April 8th
James Harden and Russell Westbrook have rejoined forces with one of the Spurs’ in-state rivals: the Houston Rockets.
Houston has been a consistent thorn in the side of the Spurs. The two teams are consistently neck and neck in the competition for claiming the Southwest Division title.
The Rockets are going to be an interesting team to watch this season. We will all have to wait and see how well Russell Westbrook can accept more of an off-ball role to Harden and if Mike D’antoni prove his system can win a title in Houston.
The Rockets and Spurs have split the last 4 seasons going 8-8 against each other and this matchup will be pivotal in the Southwest Division and go a long way to determining playoff seeding.
Not only will the Rockets challenge the Spurs as a team, but Westbrook and Harden will also serve as an excellent measuring stick for the development of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. The matchups between the two teams will likely come down to how well the Spurs tandem of young guards is able to contain the Rockets stars.
With two early-season matchups in December and two towards the end of the season in April, keep a very close eye on the Texas Rivals to give it their all against each other.
Next: Team #4
#4 Los Angeles Lakers
Home at San Antonio: November 3rd & 25th
Away at Los Angeles: February 4th
LeBron James has always found a way to be a thorn in San Antonio’s side since his Miami Heat days. With the addition of Anthony Davis, and the increased chance to capture another title, look for more motivation out of the King to compete at a higher level than he did last season.
Injuries aside, the Lakers looked lackluster in LeBron’s first season in California. Off-court drama, trade rumors, and the general media storm that perpetually follows the Lakers were all distractions from the team’s on-court production.
With San Antonio controlling the Lakers over the last 4 seasons with a 10-5 record, if the Lakers want to show they are for real behind Anthony Davis and LeBron, they will have to show out against the legendary Silver and Black.
How well LeBron performs will hinge on how well the Spurs can keep Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis in check. DaMarre Carrol and Rudy Gay will play pivotal roles in these matchups. If those two can’t help contain LeBron and AD, the Spurs will be hard-pressed to take down the Lakers.
With Dejounte Murray returning this season, and a year of continuity with this Spurs squad look for Coach Pop to get the better of a Lakers squad. The first two matchups of the season come early on. San Antonio should be able to steal two wins from a team that will be still learning how to play with each other.
Next: Team #3
#3 Milwaukee Bucks
Home at San Antonio: January 6th
Away at Milwaukee: January 4th
With Kawhi Leonard’s departure to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks look like the top dog in the Eastern Conference in 2019-20.
The Eastern Conference runner-ups are going to have a smoother and better chance at reaching the NBA Finals. With a re-tooled Philadelphia 76er’s squad and the Boston Celtics trying to figure out who they are the window is open for the Bucks to secure the first spot in the conference once again.
Splitting the last 4 seasons at 4-4, the Bucks are always a good test for the San Antonio Spurs. With former assistant Mike Budenholzer leading the Bucks, you see the improvements they made and we get to see Mike with a better franchise than what he did with the Atlanta Hawks.
With reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leading this Milwaukee squad, it’ll be a huge test at the start of 2020 with the early January matchup. If the Spurs can see where they size up against the best Eastern Conference team, it could show where they stand once the playoffs come around.
Next: Team #2
#2 Denver Nuggets
Home at San Antonio: March 13th
Away at Denver: February 10th, March 27th
I can assure you that the San Antonio Spurs hasn’t forgotten the playoff loss in that nail-biting 7 game series this last season. And I believe the Spurs have these three games circled to get back at one of the best in the West.
With Nikola Jokic, one of the best bigs in the game, a thriving young core, a budding head coach, and playoff experience, this Denver Nuggets is dangerous.
The 2019 playoff series aside, San Antonio has had the upper hand the last 4 seasons with a record of 10-5 in the regular season.
Denver is going to be one of the best out of the Western Conference and the Northwest division. With Utah getting better in the draft and free agency and Portland being prominent, it’ll look to be two or three of those teams making the playoffs.
Aldridge against Jokic, Dejounte Murray against Jamal Murray, and two strong head coaches and playoff blood between the two teams will make these three games must-see TV this coming season.
Next: Team #1
#1 Los Angeles Clippers
Home at San Antonio: November 29th, December 21st
Away at Los Angeles: October 31st, February 3rd
Halloween AND a marquee Western Conference matchup against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers? How about yes!
The Clippers are loaded with talent that is going to test every team that crosses them. Kawhi Leonard: 5-time All-Defense, 2-time DPOY, 2-time Finals MVP. Patrick Beverly: Pain in the rear defensively with a career 1.2 steals per game. Paul George: Great two-way player, MVP finalist, and 4-time All-Defense. That is crazy good and that’s just the three most notable players on that team.
While the early matchups will probably not feature Paul George as he makes his way back from his off-season shoulder surgery, Kawhi Leonard won’t pass up the chance to stick it to San Antonio.
It’ll be San Antonio’s job to remind Kawhi who they are as a retooled team. Gregg Popovich developed Kawhi and would know what’d be best to stop him, but Kawhi does know how to defer and not be the number one option scoring.
In the last 4 seasons, both teams have split at 7-7. With the Los Angeles Clippers going into the season as the betting odds favorite to win the NBA title, the San Antonio Spurs have a tough mountain to climb in the always difficult Western Conference.
The first two matchups with the Clippers come relatively early in the season. They will serve as a tests for how good this Spurs team can truly be. If they can knock off the Clippers early it could be a sign that this San Antonio team could have the makings of something truly special.
The NBA is more balanced than ever before. Every night is going to showcase some great and challenging basketball, especially in the Western Conference. The start of the season cannot come soon enough.