The NBA playoffs begin with a bit of a personal grudge match for the San Antonio Spurs as their opening round opponent — Memphis Grizzlies — apparently tanked to put themselves in a position where they would face the Spurs.
San Antonio will need this extra chip on their shoulder as they approach these 2011 playoffs as this is the most loaded field in years. You have a strong top at both conferences — Chicago, Miami Boston and San Antonio, Los Angeles and Dallas — as well as a strong middle class — Orlando, Atlanta, New York and Oklahoma City, Denver and Portland. The East isn’t as bottom heavy as Indiana finished under .500 but the West boasts one of the best 8thseeds in years with Memphis.
However, the Spurs are poised to make a deep playoff run but which teams can possibly prevent another parade down the San Antonio Riverwalk this summer?
Based on likelihood of facing the team, strength of roster and individual matchups for the Spurs, I’ve ranked the top 3 teams in the way of the Spurs winning title number 5.
3) Boston Celtics
The Spurs went 0-2 against these Celtics this year. Both were close games and played with plenty of intensity. I’d expect the series to go much like that. The Celtics have a veteran roster who have been there before. They play inside and outside. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are both good shooters who play tough defense and make good decisions. Jeff Green is their best wing player coming off the bench and he is a nightmare matchup for the Spurs. He really abused Manu in the last game they played. Jumping right over the top of him for a offensive put back and playing really tough D on him. In a seven-game series, this matchup would be heavily exploited.
The Spurs would be able to throw multiple healthy bigs at them and really exploit their lack of depth in that area. The O’Neal boys are banged up and washed up, they traded Kendrick Perkins and while Big Baby Davis is a solid rotation player, he isn’t a player you want to count who gives you the matchup edge in a playoff series. He’s just too limited. It’s like counting on Matt Bonner to be the factor that wins you a playoff series. You don’t want to be in that position. If you want to pin-point a key area where the series would hinge on it would be Manu Ginobili vs.the Celtics wing players. Jeff Green is a really tough assignment for Manu and him adjusting or not adjusting to that for the 20 minutes he’s on the floor could swing the series. My prediction for this series is one I don’t make with a lot of confidence but I’ll say Spurs in seven games. The Celtics just don’t have the bigs to compete at the elite level anymore.
2) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers at two you say? Yes, there is a team that is a bigger threat to the Spurs in the NBA but that has more to do with how the bracket is set up then anything. We’ll get to that other team in a minute though.
I believe that the Lakers aren’t going to get past the Thunder in the second round and will never see the Spurs in the conference finals. After that Perkins trade, OKC has two good defensive bigs they can throw at the Lakers. No one else in the NBA can say that. The Thunder also have a point guard who can shred any defense and will shred the Lakers defense easier then most. The Lakers have no one they can throw at Russel Westbrook. Derek Fisher? Steve Blake? Please. Ron Artest can’t guard Kevin Durant, well no one can guard Durant so that’s not much different then anyone else.
The Spurs won’t be seeing the Lakers in these playoffs. But if they do it would be a daunting task. The Lakers have two freakishly skilled big men with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. They also have the best big man coming off the bench in the NBA with Lamar Odom. Not to forget they have the second best shooting guard in the game after Dwyane Wade — Kobe Bryant.
The Lakersare absolutely loaded, and would really be motivated for a series with the Spurs. Perhaps more motivated than for any other team. The Spurs would need to hit their outside shots to be in this series. That’s a scary thing to depend on. As the saying goes, ”You live by the three and you die by the three” and the Spurs this year have thrived on it.
This series would hinge on the Spurs hitting their outside shots. Every other matchup has a probable outcome. If the Spurs hit their shots at the level they have all season, they win. If they don’t, they lose. I say they do and win in seven games.
1) Chicago Bulls
The Bulls make it to the top spot based on they are the clear favorite in the East and are a betterteam then anyone the Spurs will face in the West bracket. The Bulls are a very good and skilled team. They are a great defensive team. They have the leagues best point guard — Derrick Rose –and a great inside tandem of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
They have the tools to make it to the Finals but I just don’t see them beating the Spurs in the Finals should these two teams meet.
For all the skills and athleticism they have, they aren’t a great 3-point shooting team. When playing a seven game series against a great defensive minded coach like Popovich, that will really be exploited as the series moves forward. If you combine that with the Bulls youth and inexperience I just don’t see them beating the war horses the Spurs have over a seven-game series. This won’t be played against the thin front lines they bully in the East, like they did against the Celtics and Kevin Garnett last week. It will be played against Duncan and McDyess. Two tough and proven bigs. One who has won championships and and another who know what it takes to battle down low. This series will hinge on the Bulls ability to hit 3-point shots, which they haven’t shown a great ability to do all season. It won’t change in the finals. Spurs in six.