The San Antonio Spurs kick off their first-round series with the Utah Jazz tomorrow. Historically, you can look to the 1 vs. 8 matchup and think it’s a cakewalk, but there are some exceptions, something the Spurs know all to well.
While I don’t see this series against the Jazz going the same as the one against the Grizzlies last year, there are definitely some trouble spots that make the Spurs vulnerable.
Let’s look at the matchups.
The Spurs have the second highest points per game total of all the playoff teams and the Jazz give up the second most points of all the playoff teams. This does not bode well for Utah. The Spurs offense is just going to run wild in this series, scoring at will and that begins with the starting five.
Tony Parker has done extremely well against the Jazz this year and we can expect that to continue in the playoffs. Devin Harris is a similar player to TP, very quick and sneaky, but he honestly doesn’t compare to the way Parker has been playing this season.
The big problem the Spurs will come across is in the matchup with Utah’s big man core. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair will have their hands full with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. No doubt Jefferson is going to be hungry after finally getting in the playoffs after a long drought, but if the Spurs can even just keep it close in this area, it’s going to be a dominating series because of the advantages they have at other positions.
The question mark for the Spurs will come from their inexperienced players. Both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have been in the starting lineup and that probably won’t change in the playoffs, but aside from a few minutes last year for Green, neither of them has any playoff experience. I think a series against a bad defensive team will be great to get them initiated into the postseason.
The Jazz are also putting up some inexperience by starting second year pro Gordon Hayward. The Spurs should be able to control the shooting guard position.
The Spurs boast one of the most talented and deepest benches in the league. We’ve seen evidence of this in the last few games that the Spurs won at Phoenix and at Golden State without Tim, Tony and Manu.
Even though we all know Manu Ginobili has the talent to start, he does come off the bench, and that gives the Spurs an instant advantage in this category.
The Spurs also made two big moves during the season to help with their size. Adding Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson gave them even more depth to their bench that was already doing well. There’s very little drop-off from the Spurs starters to their backups, and that’s what makes this team so special.
You can’t say the same for the Jazz. Derrick Favors is solid off the bench. He adds to their strong group of big men that could cause the Spurs some problems, but aside from him there’s not much to be worried about. Josh Howard is coming off surgery on his knee, so there’s no telling how effective he will be and Jamaal Tinsley is a huge drop-off at point guard. The rest of the Jazz bench put in minutes sparingly and no one really stands out.
All of Jazz head coach Tyron Corbin’s coaching experience comes as an assistant under Jerry Sloan. He learned from one of the best but it’s still too soon to tell how good of a head coach he will be because he’s only been doing it for a year. This will obviously be his first trip to the playoffs as a head coach, so we’ll see what he’s capable of.
I don’t need to say much for Gregg Popovich, his resume speaks for itself. He’s been here many times before and he’s regarded by many as one of the greatest coaches of all time. This is a no-brainer.
PG: Parker/Joseph/Mills/Neal vs. Harris/Tinsley/Ahearn
Parker is putting up some of the best numbers of his career. If the NBA wasn’t so stacked with superstars, there could have been some discussions for TP to be the MVP. While Harris has a lot of talent, he doesn’t measure up to what Parker has accomplished this year.
I’m not sure who will get most of the backup PG minutes for the Spurs. We’ve seen some great things from Patty Mills in the last couple of games that may have earned him the role, but no matter who the Spurs put out at point guard, they’ll have the advantage over Tinsley and the inexperienced Blake Ahearn.
SG: Green/Ginobili/Jackson vs. Hayward/Bell/Burcks
This is Gordon Hayward’s second season and he’s surprisingly done a lot better than I expected. I really thought he’d be riding the bench for a while but he’s come on strong and played some solid minutes for the Jazz. That being said, he still can’t compare to Manu.
Raja Bell knows the Spurs all too well from his days in Phoenix and I’m sure he’s looking forward to the opportunity to be a thorn in their side again, but he’s also just coming back from injury and who knows how effective he’ll be. He was a starter for most of the year, but his role may have to change in his return.
As I wrote earlier, Green is looking at his first solid playoff minutes, but he strikes me as the type of player that should get acclimated quickly and be very effective for the Spurs. Newly re-acquired Stephen Jackson will also be a big asset to the team as long as he keeps his sloppy nature under control.
SF: Leonard/Byars vs. Howard/Evans
As I already mentioned, Josh Howard is coming off surgery and may be a step or two slower. He’s a decent player and could step up big for the Jazz but I don’t see that happening. While Jeremy Evans may have won the dunk contest, he doesn’t put in a lot of minutes. He’s a decent role player but probably won’t be very effective in this series.
Kawhi Leonard was one of the pleasant surprises for the Spurs this season. Even if he is just a rookie, he’s already playing like he’s been around for a long time. He should do very well in this matchup of small forwards. I haven’t seen enough of Derrick Byars to know much about him, but we’ll hope the coaching staff knows what they’re doing.
F: Blair/Bonner vs. Millsap/Carroll/Favors/Kanter
Here is where the Spurs are going to have some problems. While their big men have showed a valiant effort all year long, the Jazz are just better down low. Paul Millsap is a beast and he knows the outcome of this series is going to fall partly on his shoulders. When Millsap goes out and Derrick Favors comes in, it doesn’t get any better for the Spurs and DeMarre Carroll is also a very talented young post.
DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner are going to have their hands full. They’ll really need to step up, along with some help from Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. If the Spurs are going to put the Jazz away easily, it’s going to be because someone down low played better than what they’re capable of.
C: Duncan/Splitter vs. Jefferson
Tim Duncan is playing just as well as he did a decade ago. He’s still going strong even at his age. Coach Pop has done a great job of resting his aging superstar throughout the entire year so he could be ready for the playoffs. Tiago Splitter has had some good moments and bad, he’s going to be a question mark in this series, we’ll see which Tiago shows up.
I imagine Al Jefferson is getting ready to put this team on his back and try to carry them through this series. This is his first trip to the playoffs since his rookie season with the Boston Celtics where he didn’t play much. He’s going to be amped up and ready to go. He’s a talented player who averaged almost 23 points a game this year. Even with the way Duncan has been playing, it’s still going to be hard to contain Jefferson.
Home court advantage is going to be a big deal in this series. People sometimes forget that Salt Lake City is a very tough place to play. The Jazz were 25-8 at home this year but only 11-22 on the road. They really struggled in San Antonio so I don’t expect the Spurs to drop any at home, but they may lose one or two on the road. The Spurs are 28-5 at home, tied with the Miami Heat for the best home record in the NBA, the Jazz won’t win in San Antonio.