With the San Antonio Spurs having just nine more regular season games, the 2013 NBA playoffs are right around the corner which means it is time to look at which teams could be the Spurs' potential first round opponent.
The Spurs are currently holding onto the first seed in the Western Conference by 1.5 games over the Thunder and from the Warriors to old familiar foes, the race for the seventh and eighth seed in the West is going down to the wire.
Let's take a closer look at the teams who might have a first round date with the Spurs in a few short weeks.
6. Golden State Warriors (42-32)
With fewer than 10 games remaining, barring a minor collapse, the Warriors will likely remain in the sixth slot or, in a worst case scenario, in the seventh seed if the Rockets continue their blistering pace. Meaning a matchup with the Spurs is unlikely. This isn't bad news nor is it good news; Golden State is a volatile team — in their last 20 games, they have drubbed their opponents, allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com/Stats, which would be fourth over the course of the season — and can disrupt even elite teams when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have space on the perimeter. But they are heavily flawed — namely defensively, though they do allow the fewest attempts at the rim — and until they dial down their mid-range attempts and distribute their shots more efficiently, they shouldn't be considered a legitimate playoff threat. (Note: Swapping super sub Jarrett Jack for Harrison Barnes may do the trick however; in a limited sample size, the Warriors starting lineup plus Jack has been incredibly effective, outscoring opponents by 12.3 points per 100 possessions.) But they will still be plenty fun.
7. Houston Rockets (40-33)
Believe it or not: The Spurs should pray they don't face the Rockets in the first-round. Not because an upset is in order — they did win the season series rather easily, outscoring the Rockets by 9.5 points per 100 possessions in four games. But the potential for a long series is substantially higher if they draw the Rockets in the first round. (Important caveat: Two of the Spurs' wins over Houston occurred early in the season when the Rockets were still tinkering with new toy James Harden. The difference between the December Rockets and the current edition is pretty drastic.) Even though Houston is bereft of plus-defenders — people not named Omer Asik, notwithstanding — their strengths still outweigh the weaknesses. Offensively, Houston is immensely efficient even while operating at a breakneck pace that is very difficult to combat. Their shot selection is noteworthy, too; Houston is first in corner 3-point attempts (8.2), third in attempts in the restricted area (31.9) and dead-last in mid-range shots per game (12.5). In other words, they take a bunch of efficient shots and limit the less effective attempts — a stat-heads dream. Plus, with the flexibility to implement small-ball lineups like Jeremy Lin-Harden-Carlos Delfino-Chandler Parsons-Asik, which has crushed the competition by 8.8 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com/Stats, Houston is no longer a playoff afterthought. They are quite scary.
8. Utah Jazz (38-36)
Not many teams boast a versatile frontline quite like Utah. Which makes it even more frustrating that A) they didn't trade Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap prior to the deadline, each of whom possess massive expiring contracts and B) they still can't find a optimal combination. With the exception of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter — Utah outscores the opposition by one point per 100 possessions when they share the floor — no Jazz frontline pairing outscores their opponents. Jefferson and Millsap have been poor. Substituting Favors exacerbates the issue further. Utah still holds a massive edge on the offensive glass regardless, which will keep them within shouting distance on most nights. But their crippling inability to space the floor, only three teams generate fewer corner 3's per game, and reliance on mid-range shots makes them a one-dimensional offense that can be beaten easily by a stingy defense. As of now, they are the Spurs' first-round opponent and present the Spurs' easiest path to the second round.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (38-36)
Having won 13 of their last 20 games, the Lakers appear to be gelling at the right time. Although their recent play is encouraging, the Lakers have only been marginally better since the All-Star break. To compensate for a failing defense, which has regressed even more since February, the Lakers have upped their offensive pace. What resulted is an offense that is producing 107.3 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would be behind only Miami, Oklahoma City, New York and Denver. Defensive ineptitude aside — Mike D'Antoni hasn't been able to commandeer his roster, which does include some halfway decent defenders, into playing active defense — the Lakers have discovered a few positive silver linings; small-ball lineups including Earl Clark at power forward have been effective and, as long as Kobe Bryant doesn't jack up too many shots, the Lakers will have little trouble scoring points in bunches. Integrating Pau Gasol is still a bit awkward, since Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Bryant have already developed a healthy repertoire. Los Angeles should not be feared or overlooked at this point.
10. Dallas Mavericks (36-37)
Thanks to their recent 10-5 stretch, in which the Mavericks are scoring 108 points per 100 possessions, Dallas has crept within one and half game of the eight seed. These victories haven't been empty either; seven were against current playoff teams. The Mavs nearly defeated San Antonio and Oklahoma City, too. So what has changed? Simply put, Dallas is making their shots a lot more often. Since their 33-point drubbing in Houston, the Mavericks have been among the top seven shooting teams in each "area" — restricted area, non-restricted area, mid-range, corner 3's and other 3's — according to NBA.com/Stats. Their 67.5 percent mark on restricted area shots is much, much better than the entire league. And while they still attempt a bunch of long 2's, a palatable trade off with Dirk Nowitzki on the roster, they have made them at a high enough clip to still be an effective byproduct of their offense. If they keeping making their shots at this rate, even if they continue to flounder defensively, they could be a tough first-round out. Still, San Antonio has dispatched of them rather easily this season, winning four games by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions.
Although there will be some jostling for the final playoff spots in the West with a few games still to play but what do you think Spurs fans? Which team do you hope will fall to the Spurs in the first round whether they are the first or second seed?