The Knicks beat the Thunder and now the Spurs sit at the top of the Western Conference once again. They are up one game with both teams having five left to play. The Spurs schedule goes @Nuggets, vs. Kings, @Lakers, @Warriors (BABA) and vs. the Wolves. The Thunder will visit Utah tonight, then @Warriors, @Blazers (BABA), vs. Kings and vs. Bucks. Both teams have some tough away games, a back to back and some supposedly easy games against non-playoff teams. It's hard to predict how things will shake up, especially with the Spurs having players out with injury and not looking particularly good lately but the first seed remains a possibility.
But with the way the playoff picture is shaking up, is it really valuable?
If the playoffs started today, the Spurs would face the Jazz in the first round while OKC would face the Rockets. There could be some changes, with the Lakers potentially overtaking the Utah for the last playoff spot and the Rockets swapping spots with the Warriors. At this points I think the Lakers are nothing to be scared of but they do have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. They haven't put it together all season but if they click for four games they can be a tough out. The Jazz don't scare most people but they do have a great front line, with Derrick Favors looking better and better, and they have Spurs Killer Mo Williams. Still, I think the Lakers and Jazz would probably be easier to beat than the Rockets or Warriors but the Spurs should beat all four teams.
Things get more interesting in a hypothetical second round. The first seed would face the winner of the fourth and fifth seed series. That would be the Clippers or Grizzlies. The second seed would face the winner of the Nuggets-Rockets series, likely the third seeded Nuggets. Now the Spurs have not lost the season series to any of these teams, although they are tied at one each and there's a game left in Denver against the Nuggets. They won the season series against the Rockets 3-1 and tied with both the Clippers and Grizzlies 2-2. The Clippers beat the Spurs in their two early meetings and two of the games against the Grizzlies ended on over time.
So it doesn't seem to be a team the Spurs should fear anyone in particular out of the four but it doesn't seem they have any of their numbers either. The Rockets come the closest to it but if they beat the Nuggets in the first round it means they are playing at a very high level. The Nuggets don't have the star power the Clippers have but they are great at home. The Grizzlies don't have a go to scorer but they have a great defense. It really is not easy to figure out who the Spurs would like to play.
Which is why I believe getting the first seed, if it's possible, would be the way to go. The bracket seems to be better early on for the second seed because it would mean potentially avoiding the dangerous Lakers and one of the Clippers and Grizzlies but the Rockets and Nuggets can catch fire at any point and take over a game. Both teams are also very deep and like to run, so the series might not be as physical as it would against Lakers/Utah first and Grizzlies/Clippers later but it will be challenging in a different way.
And then there is the Conference Finals. No one has it on the bag but the two favorites to get to the Conference finals are the Spurs and the Thunder. The first seed gets home court advantage. Last season showed us that it's not a guarantee of success to be assured a game seven at home; you have to get there first. But it could be an edge on what I expect to be a very close series, if it actually happens.
Getting the number one seed comes a distant second in most Spurs fans priorities after getting healthy. I'm sure Pop agrees with that, so I wouldn't be surprised if he rests a couple of players in these last few games, especially after Manu got injured in the last game of the regular season two years ago. And getting the second seed wouldn't be that bad. I don't think the path with be a lot easier but you can make the case that at their best, the Grizzlies and Clippers are a bit scarier than the Nuggets, especially now that they are missing Gallinari.
But if you ask me, I'd take the first seed. The possibility of getting home court advantage on a potential conference final seems worth the possibility of facing a couple of physical teams in a row. If previous results help predict how things are going to turn out, all the games in the second round should be close but that's the problem with playing in a conference that has so many good teams. So I say bring on the Lakers and then let's have our revenge on the Grizzlies. What say you?