As I write this, the Spurs are a somewhat surprising 5-5, after dropping a game at home against the Denver Nuggets. The overly optimistic among us would tell you that San Antonio is still on pace to win ~46 games, which is generally good enough for a spot in the playoffs. The overly pessimistic among us would tell you that San Antonio’s 5-4 start is an outlier, that the hot start that means nothing and they’re still a ~30-win team.
I’m going to not really get into any of that right now. The Spurs haven’t played anyone in their division yet, and those division games they’ve yet to play are going to go a long way in determining whether or not San Antonio is a playoff team.
Three teams from this division made the playoffs last year: Dallas, New Orleans, and Memphis. So, it’s fair to say that the divisional matchups are going to provide a pretty solid barometer for where the Spurs stand.
Today, we’re going to dig into the four games San Antonio will play against Dallas, and I’ve brought along my friend Ben Zajdel from Mavs Moneyball to give his perspective on the matter.
Who finishes on top?
Ben is of the opinion that the Mavericks will finish ahead of the Spurs at the end of the regular season, primarily because of a dude you’re probably aware of being pretty good at basketball: Luka Dončić.
“One player can have an outsized effect. Dončić is a top-ten player in the NBA at the least, and he’s probably top-five most nights. The rest of the Mavericks really aren’t able to create much on their own, but with Dončić, they become threatening,” says Zajdel.
Not only does Dončić raise the level of players around him, but if that’s not working out, he can turn what looks like an inevitable loss into a dramatic victory.
“Dončić creates offense out of nothing some nights. He controls games and most nights can pull off wins almost single-handedly.”
Longtime fans of San Antonio may remember that we once cheered for a player that could do this, though it feels like a distant memory by now.
“Spurs fans are familiar with this. Tim Duncan graced the court in San Antonio at this level for more than a decade.”
I hate to say it, but I’m with Ben on his assessment. Tim Duncan ain’t walking through that door, as they say. If the Spurs make a playoff run this year, it’s going to be the result of Gregg Popovich’s best coaching ever, and several young players playing above their level for the next six months. Impossible? No. Unlikely, though.
How could San Antonio beat the Mavericks?
Because it’s my job, I had to ask Ben about the hypothetical future where the Mavericks do finish worse than San Antonio. Unsurprisingly, his response mostly hinged on Dallas’ health.
“The Mavericks don’t have the roster to overcome [a significant injury to Dončić]… I don’t think they’re bad enough to fully tank, but there’s no way they make the playoffs without Dončić.”
That checks out. We’ve seen the Maverick’s offense stall to a grinding halt when opponents manage to take Dončić out of the game, so we can safely imagine the negative impact a Dončić injury would have on the team.
What Else Could Go Wrong In Dallas? The Vibes
“I can also see this season going sideways just due to bad luck and bad vibes. Jason Kidd is already being weird with Christian Wood’s playing time. The Dallas front office didn’t replace Jalen Brunson’s production.”
Kidd failing to pass the vibe check is about as on-brand as it gets for that guy. And if we’ve learned anything about the NBA lately, vibes can make or break a team, regardless of their skill level. The Nets theoretically have world-class talent, but the absolute worst vibes imaginable. Will they even make the playoffs?
That’s beside the point – let’s get back to San Antonio vs. Dallas. I asked Ben to give me his season series prediction and he picked the Mavericks to go 3-1. Given the assessment above, his prediction is fair. Oddly enough, we won’t know anything about the season series until January 1, 2023, when the Spurs play the Mavericks for the first time this season, in San Antonio.
Thanks for reading, please be kind to each other out there.