How would the San Antonio Spurs fare against the best teams in the West?
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA so far, boasting a 16-11 record in the brutal Western Conference while playing one of the association’s toughest early schedules.
Bucking usual franchise trends and on full throttle towards a competitive rebuild, the Silver and Black are starting to resemble a competitive team capable of making noise in the playoffs.
However, there are no guarantees in the NBA, much less in the wild West. While the Spurs’ record brings them to the sixth seed, they are also only 3.5 games away from the 13th, which speaks of the great parity that we see in the league today.
It’s gotten to the point where we’re fairly confident that this team is going to make the playoffs. Don’t bet your life savings on it but they’ve looked competitive, still have areas to improve on, and should be in the hunt for a playoff spot until the very end.
With their next few games postponed while the team deals with several positive COVID-19 tests, this feels like as good of a time as any to look down the road a bit. While still early for forecasts, here is how we see San Antonio matching up against the best of the Western Conference in a hypothetical seven-game series.
Could the San Antonio Spurs take down the Utah Jazz in a seven-game series?
The Utah Jazz are off to the best record in the league early on. Led by young star Donovan Mitchell and defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert, and rounded out by a solid supporting cast in Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson, Utah is one team that pundits overlook in contender talks.
Quin Snyder has installed a hugely effective offense predicated on spacing and ball movement – a bit reminiscent of the past Spurs – as well as solid positional defense. The team has the makings of a potential championship wildcard.
Gobert is still a world-beater in altering shots and Mitchell continues to be an efficient scorer to lead the herd. Conley has now found his Memphis groove, while Ingles and Bogdanovic supercharge this European-patterned attack with their shooting and playmaking. At the end of the trail awaits explosive guard Clarkson who has been this campaign’s best contributor off the bench.
San Antonio has lost badly in its only meeting with Utah in the season, with its putrid defense allowing the Jazz to bomb away 21 triples en route to a beatdown on the road. However, from a personnel perspective, the Jazz almost always plays Gobert around four perimeter players, thereby not really posing an imposing physical advantage from the get-go against the small-ball Spurs, giving ample room for a competitive series.
If the Spurs can use their length and focus on forcing turnovers by picking on Utah’s extra passing, then they can force Utah to play in isolation more, which Snyder’s system veers away from by design, taking them out of their comfort zone. If they’re not able to do that this series could end up a blowout.
Next: Spurs v. Lakers
Jan 7, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots past Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
How would the San Antonio Spurs do in a seven-game series with the Lakers?
The defending champions Los Angeles Lakers are a different story. LA has won 2 out of 3 meetings against the Spurs this season, and with all matchups, San Antonio has done nothing but compromise. True to their title-clinching template last season, Frank Vogel’s squad plays suffocating defense supercharged by their bruising size and cramping schemes in the paint.
The Lakers system is only the tip of the iceberg. The Purple and Gold also boast perhaps the best roster in the league from top to bottom, having the ability to go 10-deep at any time to be more flexible with lineups.
LeBron and AD are now surrounded by a better supporting cast than last year with the additions of Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder. Their bench offers constant spark and mix and matching. Their playoff experience is nothing to scoff at and may be their defining edge in close games, as evidenced by their excellent showings in overtimes and in clutch periods.
The chances of a Spurs upset against the Lakeshow look bleak, especially since Los Angeles has all the tools to stymie San Antonio’s offense rooted in player movement and constant penetration, as well as the height to negate the Spurs’ pressuring defense. Heck, the Purple and Gold even possess the clear advantage on the boards.
It should also be mentioned that San Antonio’s lone win against the Lakers was headed by a LaMarcus Aldridge explosion, which is not a good and sustainable precedent to build on. Nevertheless, the presence of James and Davis alone presents a mountain to climb for these young Spurs.
Gregg Popovich has a wide latitude of experience dealing with the King, but unlike his previous Heat and Cavaliers teams, this Lakers brass has better complementary players to help overcome any potential individual struggles. That extra breathing room and the sheer dominance of their stars give the Lakers the edge.
Next: Spurs v. Clippers
Jan 5, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) moves the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Luke Kennard (5) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
A seven-game series with the Clippers would bring out the best in Spurs
The other LA team, the Los Angeles Clippers, presents a more interesting match-up. Not only is Kawhi Leonard, Spurs nemesis, the head of the snake, but the Clips, like the Lakers, are also versatile and flexible.
Their superstar tandem of the Klaw and Paul George, alongside a bunch of elite role players in Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka, Lou Williams, Marcus Morris Sr., the rejuvenated Nicolas Batum, and youngsters Ivica Zubac and Luke Kennard, form one of the league’s most potent squads on both ends of the floor.
While San Antonio has routed the Clippers on the road in its only meeting in the season so far, the Clips are much better than their lone poor showing against San Antonio. With a new offense similar to the Jazz powered by their league-leading accuracy from downtown, switchability on defense with their big wings, lineup versatility, and sheer superstar power, the Spurs might not have a big chance of staging an upset.
While the Spurs have historically played Leonard well, the new playstyle implemented by Tyronn Lue has made the Clips deadlier beyond their superstar duo. Los Angeles feeds off the incredibly efficient production of their rangy and athletic wings so far to catapult them into wins, which has doesn’t bode well for a Spurs team that has yet to figure out its perimeter defense.
However, there is certainly a hole in their team that Popovich and co. can poke into. The Clippers are not as disciplined as you would expect from a title contender, going into stretches of sloppy play leading to random blowout losses and squandering huge leads. Their point guard play is another soft part of their team.
San Antonio, masters of the league in not beating themselves, may exploit these areas if the opportunity arises and make the series more competitive than expected. This seems like a series the Clippers would win, but the Spurs could surprise people here as well.
Next: Spurs v. Suns
Jan 24, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) drives to the basket against guard Devin Booker (1) in the first half of the game at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
A series between the Suns and Spurs would go the distance
The dynamic backcourt of the Phoenix Suns, led by future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and All-Star Devin Booker, has carved the franchise back to relevance after a decade of mediocrity. Like the Spurs, the Suns were also able to find lightning in a bottle in last season’s Orlando Bubble. That, combined with the acquisition of prized facilitator Paul, has installed a new winning culture in the team.
Early success in the Valley, however, revolves more than their star-studded guard play. Phoenix plays an efficient offense where players are in constant motion. The Suns have big, athletic wings in Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Jae Crowder that constantly pose a threat to attack who can also fire away from distance. In addition, they also possess an interior force in Deandre Ayton. Oh, and have I mentioned that they have the 6th-ranked defense in the league this year?
Any playoff series that pits San Antonio against Phoenix figures to be a very entertaining match-up, given both teams’ personnel. DeJounte Murray and Derrick White will have their hands full trying to contain their opposition and vice versa. DeMar DeRozan, Lonnie Walker, and Keldon Johnson will penetrate at any opportunity against their defensive wings.
The fact that Monty Williams is from the Pop coaching tree only adds another level of intrigue to what would already have been an electric series. Don’t forget that the Spurs-Suns is a classic franchise rivalry. This could easily go seven games.
Next: Spurs v. Blazers
Jan 18, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Damian Lillard and Blazers would test the Spurs backcourt
The antagonists’ star guard streak continues with the Portland Trail Blazers, who are spearheaded by excellent scorers in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Going through another campaign marred by injuries to the latter and starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers have been able to compensate thanks to new additions and internal development.
In addition to their offensive firepower, Portland also boasts new defensive assets in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., as well as the drastic growth of Gary Trent Jr., whose volume 3pt shooting and pesky perimeter D has been a catalyst for their sustained play sans McCollum.
Outside of that, the Blazers still play off isolation opportunities for their featured scorers combined with reliable spot-up shooting and pick and rolls. They haven’t changed much but their recipe for success keeps on working.
Still, San Antonio should like their chances against Portland. Having already beaten them once handily on the road, albeit without McCollum, the Spurs have all the tools and the switchability to limit the offensive prowess of Portland’s scorers.
Also, while their wings possess great defensive acumen, Lillard and McCollum are not defensive wizards, being left vulnerable to being picked on by the slashing guards of Popovich. Their bench is also less effective than the Spurs’. San Antonio, while the media would say otherwise, holds the relative advantage here.
Next: Spurs v. Nuggets
Jan 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass as San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) defends in the fourth quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Joker or not, San Antonio Spurs still have a fighting chance against Nuggets
Last season’s Western Conference finalists, the Denver Nuggets are facing a bit of a drop-off from their previous successful campaign. However, the Mile High City still possesses a squad that has the makings of a contender, if they are not that already.
Nikola Jokic, an MVP favorite, may be the most skilled big man in the league. His skillset is an amalgamation of all the facets of basketball, but each made excellent. He leads this Denver group who are still in the thick of internal development, though their play last season gives off the feels that they may have already peaked.
Jamal Murray is a creative and flashy scorer who is the main recipient of The Joker’s similarly flashy dishes. This core is surrounded by young stars in Michael Porter Jr., a 6″11 dynamic scorer, and Gary Harris, a 3 and D adept, as well as the steady veteran smarts of Paul Millsap, Will Barton, and JaMychal Green.
On paper, the Nuggets are more talented and have the similar depth that San Antonio prides itself on. Slowing down Jokic is a TALL task for Jakob Poeltl, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the entire Spurs frontcourt. But it’s one that Poeltl proved he can handle during their playoff series back in 2019.
Their offense is constantly on the verge of exploding. Their bench is very steady. However, the Spurs have already beaten them once encouragingly.
For some reason, the Silver and Black always play well against Denver. They routinely defend their backcourt and wings well. Their only definitive advantage is with Jokic. But as mentioned before, that might not be the deal-breaker it seems like it could be. Also, the Spurs would love to avenge their 7-game series loss from a few years back.
Denver may be the prohibitive favorites here, but San Antonio should have an ample chance to come out of this victorious.
Next: Spurs v. Warriors
Feb 9, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) brings the ball up court as San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) defends ini the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Warriors have proven they’ve got the Spurs number this year
Death, taxes, and Curry threes is a good matchup for your death, taxes, and Spurs. The peerless brilliance of Stephen Curry, who is having another MVP-caliber season, has pushed the Golden State Warriors back to the thick of the playoff picture, even with a rugged supporting cast.
Having already lost Klay Thompson to an Achilles injury for the season, their offense still plays a beautiful tune to the play of guys like Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre, and James Wiseman.
The Steve Kerr-coached team, while relatively short in personnel compared to the years past, still harbors the complex offense that generates a lot of assists and open looks. The gravity of Curry pulling away defenders has been more than enough to bend even the best defenses. Their defense is still as stout as before but relies on switches more than ever. They are experienced, have a championship pedigree, and most of all, pride.
Inasmuch as the Warriors are intimidating, they have also been very inconsistent so far. The Dubs have yet to string three consecutive victories in the season.
However, for San Antonio, Golden State presents a tough matchup. Having already clinched the season series against the Spurs, the Warriors have the extraordinary advantage in Curry’s individual talent, switchability on defense, and athleticism in the frontcourt.
It is no coincidence that the losses by the Spurs against them have been blowouts, with the equal denominator there being Curry’s superlative shooting and SA’s offensive struggles dealing with their switching. In a 7-game series, San Antonio should still like their chances, though the Warriors have proven this year that they’re very capable of dismantling them if they get going.
Against the best of the West in the early part of the season, San Antonio is understandably in the underdog circle with only marginal room for success. This does not even take into account the other teams in the Conference that are starting to find their niche. But based on the signs in the hardwood, the Spurs are undoubtedly hard to ignore in the playoff picture.