Can the San Antonio Spurs finish at the top of the Western Conference?
By Alan Torres
The San Antonio Spurs look like one of the top teams in the Western Conference but they will be constantly tested by other star-studded teams.
For nearly two decades the San Antonio Spurs inhabited the top of the standings for the Western Conference. After years of constant domination and five NBA titles, the Spurs were rightfully known as the best of the west. Sadly, the Spurs have spent the last two years near the bottom of the list and the fear of never climbing back up is real.
Recently, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets seemed to be the new kings of the rock. By adding a Kawhi Leonard-led LA Clippers team and the much-improved Los Angeles Lakers to the mix, the real estate at the top of the chart seems to be selling fast.
It’s safe to say that the Western Conference is back to the level of greatness that it held for years and this season more than ever, it’s truly anyone’s conference. The favorites were decided in the offseason, but the Spurs have a good opportunity to sneak in for a top 5 seed.
Let’s start by identifying the most likely contenders in the Western Conference and eliminating the teams that are likely to receive a participation ribbon. The top eight teams, in my opinion, are the Clippers, Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Warriors, Spurs, Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks.
How can the Spurs end up a top 5 seed in a conference full of stars? I will concede that on paper, San Antonio has nothing to brag about quite yet, but after looking at all the other teams, I have come to the conclusion that much of the West is simply overrated, offseason hype talk.
Next: Warriors and Rockets
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors seem like an obvious place to start considering they are the latest dynasty added to the history books. They’ve been a team with ridiculous star power, trotting out lineups that look like Olympic teams with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green.
When all of those top-caliber players shared a locker room, the amount of collective talent seemed like a cheat code. It’s obvious that the Warriors have been at the top for the last five years, but this season looks a lot less promising as they have already dealt with tough losses on the court and bites from the injury bug.
One has to respect a team led by Curry and coached by Steve Kerr, but with Curry out with a broken hand, and Thompson out for the majority of the year, the first few months of the regular season will surely be a struggle.
The team has tried to recover some talent by adding D’Angelo Russell, but nothing can replace a superstar like Durant or the ultimate glue guy like Iguodala. Green is now the last remaining starter from last year’s lineup. Their previously guaranteed top 3 finish is now wishful thinking.
The world has witnessed the Houston Rockets play incredible regular season basketball, then become exhausted in the postseason and choke.
They have a system that works for the regular season and I expect them to improve even more from last year. Whether they can win it all or not, it does not matter for this article. They will surely be a top-three seed in the West, maybe even No. 1.
As long as they have James Harden and Mike D’Antoni‘s system in place, the Rockets will be a winning team. They may have lost the brains and talents of Chris Paul, but they gained the athleticism and skill of Russell Westbrook.
In a best of seven series deep in the playoffs, I can see the Spurs outlasting the Rockets. T
hey may have two of the best players, but they don’t have the depth or the tactical rest and recovery of the Spurs.
Next: Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and Blazers
The Clippers have all they need with one-man army Kawhi Leonard and throw Paul George in the mix for the heck of it. Kawhi has proven that he is the man of the house and does not need much to win a championship; the Clippers will for sure sit pretty at one of the top two spots.
The Spurs recently lost to the Clippers 103-97 in a very sloppy away game. The team had 19 turnovers and shot a mediocre 66.7% from the free-throw line 19.3% from the 3-point line.
It’s safe to say the Spurs did not play at their full potential. It was the team’s first away game after three straight home games and the first away game of the season.
That is exactly how they played – like a team traveling for the first time. The Spurs’ poor performance and the final score show room for improvement and provides hope for the future.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are the No. 1 team that I accuse of hype. If they cannot stay healthy in the regular season, they will not be a top finishing seed.
I fully understand that LeBron James and Anthony Davis together are a big deal, but if they are not together then the experiment fails in the long run. The Lakers were in the mix at the beginning of last season and LeBron was doing it all – playing big minutes and basically running the team as the head coach. Then, of course, the 32-year-old man who plays a ridiculous amount of minutes and has gone to the finals eight years in a row got hurt.
Once LeBron went down, we saw how bad the team was and how big of an impact LeBron has on any team he plays for. Adding Anthony Davis should sustain the team in case James goes down again, which at his age is likely.
My problem with that is that we have seen Anthony Davis be the main guy with the Pelicans and it didn’t amount to anything. I’m sure an Anthony Davis, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma team led by Frank Vogel will make a fine sixth seed in the West, but without a healthy LeBron-Davis duo, that team is not going anywhere serious.
Portland Trail Blazers & Denver Nuggets
The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets are similar teams. They both have a clear-cut No. 1 player, a good No. 2, then a troubling lack of depth.
San Antonio already beat the Blazers once this season and they did it with coaching and by using their deep bench. The only reason Portland almost came back and won the game is that Damian Lillard played lights out. He is a one-man team, and if he is not hot then no one is.
The same thing can go for Denver and Nikola Jokic. We were all shocked last season when Jokic dominated on the court through the first round – the system for the Nuggets was to run the offense and defense through Jokic.
The issue with the system that worked so well last year is that the NBA has now caught up with it, and once a team neutralizes Jokic, they cannot count on anyone else to step up.
Next: Mavericks and Spurs
My long-shot nominee for the eighth seed is the Dallas Mavericks, yet if they fall short of the playoffs, I won’t be surprised at all. The additions of Boban Marjanovic and Seth Curry are definitely helpful – two good players with playoff experience who know exactly who they are and what they can bring to the team.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic left us all wanting more. He is the future of the league and is already an established, mature star. Doncic will be part of the new dynamic duo alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
The challenges will be maintaining Porzingis’ health and they have to figure out who is the No. 1 in that duo. If the stars of the team stay healthy and develop good chemistry, the Mavs will generate a huge leap forward, If, not they will relive last year’s disappointing season.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has 22 consecutive playoff appearances and I guarantee this year will keep the streak alive. The last two years have been a bit rough for Spurs’ standards, trying to adjust to a Kawhi Leonard-less team and waiting for future of the franchise, Dejounte Murray, to heal.
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The team is now where they want to be; the young players are healthy and have some playoff experience under their belt, DeMar DeRozan had a full year to learn the system and the team seems to be getting along well.
As a result, the Spurs are obviously better this year and can finally compete in the first round of the playoffs. As of now, the Spurs can compete against anyone in the west in an even matchup.
Last year, the Spurs had the coaching and the strategy to succeed, but simply lacked in skill and one-on-one matchups. This year, the Spurs can square up against almost any top team, and the depth of the experienced bench combined with the consistency in coaching will surely push them to a top-five seed.
Do not be surprised when the Spurs constantly beat the favorites in the regular season