Every year, upon the release of the NBA schedule, basketball fans are gifted with a glut of very subjective lists proclaiming the NBA’s most important, most watchable, or most interesting games. All of these lists are essentially the same, a compiling of games that an author has selected based on his own set of specific guidelines. Every NBA site publishes a list like this, and frankly, it’s difficult for fans to tell them apart.
Okay, fine. This is one of those lists.
Don’t stop reading, though. I mean sure, this piece is tarnished by the maddening doldrums of an NBA-less early September. But where other lists suffer from an over reliance of an author on his or her biases, this list has solved for that bias by multiplying it. I am a Spurs fan, so this is a list comprised entirely of Spurs games. Even better, I’ll also be also highlighting the "Bottom Five" games to avoid this season in a future article. Some people will tell you that a true fan doesn’t miss games. Those people are simply wrong. The games you’ll see in that list, to be posted in the next few days, are games Tim Duncan would happily sit out. Think about that for a second. Yes, they’re that bad.
Furthermore, I’ve also connected each game to the superhero movie that provides the best analogy for each situation in which the Spurs will find themselves. Why? Because it’s September, and your Fantasy Football league has just been taken hostage by whoever drafted Peyton Manning.
PART 1: The Five Must Watch Spurs Games, 2013-2014
Lest you think this list was developed in haste, let me assure you that each of these games was selected using very important criteria, as I did my best to weed out SEGABABA and THIGAFONI games. I don’t need to tell you that Popovich uses games like those as selective rest points for the old guys on the squad, so even the chance that someone might sit out was enough to remove potential drama from some games under consideration. I also took into account the schedule of the opponents, as getting a good team on its own SEGABABA or THIGAFONI likely lessens the competitive nature of the game. So, for example, "San Antonio vs Golden State" seems like a guarantee, until you realize that three of their four matchups this season are played with one of the teams on a SEGABABA.
What you have here is a definitive list of Spurs games you should not, under any circumstances, miss during this season. If you could only watch five games all season, these would be the ones to catch. So read along, understand that my work here is a science and therefore inarguable, and set your DVRs accordingly.
Must Watch Game: #5 – December 21, vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Sometime during last season, the fellas at The Basketball Jones asked an incredibly profound question regarding the nature of one the NBA’s most polarizing talents: Is Russell Westbrook a cat or a dog?
The jury is still out (or it isn’t; I can’t remember), but the discussion highlighted the complexity of Westbrook as an athlete and a persona. Although he’s much better than fans of opposing teams will admit, descriptions like "Bad Russ" have stuck as the perception that his game lies on a pendulum persists.
In looking for a superhero movie to describe this matchup, the choice seemed surprisingly obvious. Russell Westbrook is Two Face. The answer to the TBJ question above was "both." He is a cat and a dog. He is (mostly) Good Russ, but he’s also Bad Russ. Better yet, what really puts the comparison over the top is the fashion. Joel Schumacher’s Two Face was a Dick Tracy sketch colored with highlighters. The best joke in the movie is still watching Tommy Lee Jones take himself seriously. And we all laugh the same way watching Russell Westbrook do postgame interviews.
Beyond that, the comparisons are easy enough. Kevin Durant would be The Riddler. (How, exactly, are you supposed to guard him?) And just as the third installment of the original Batman series wasn’t as good as the two before it, so will this iteration of the Spurs/Thunder matchup be inferior to the heartbreaking classics in 2012 and the what-might-have-been fantasy we all maintained going into last year’s playoffs.
Must Watch Game: #4 – February 18, at Los Angeles Clippers
Loki has it rough. By all accounts, he’s a much more charismatic and fascinating specimen than his brother Thor. But Thor is big and has a face with chiseling rivaled only by that stupid stone hammer he carries around. In The Avengers, Loki has had enough, and he decides to submit to an alien power and its hoard of living weapons in order to finally defeat his brother.
Chris Paul has it rough. To many, he’s the most fascinating and gifted point guard in the NBA. But in his eight years in the league, he’s never led a team past the second round. And twice, the team that halted his run was the Spurs. The last time Chris Paul saw Tony Parker in the playoffs, the Spurs swept Paul’s team, a stunning Spurs comeback on the road in that series being a particularly painful embarrassment.
Chris Paul has had enough. Recognizing that his team will probably have to go through the Spurs eventually, he pushed this season to find a higher power in Doc Rivers, surrounding himself in the offseason with a variety of weapons. No, it’s not a perfect analogy, especially considering the Clippers really just got rid of their alien. But it works because this game will be awesome and we’re all going to watch it regardless.
Must Watch Game: #3 – December 25, vs Houston Rockets
The Spurs/Rockets matchup has certainly had its memorable moments. Olajuwon vs Robinson in 1995. T-Mac’s stigmata in 2004. But if we’re being honest, the so-called "I10 Rivalry" hasn’t had much to add to its history in nearly a decade. Outside of an appearance in the second round of the 2009 playoffs, the Rockets have been occupying the tortuous space between true contention and lottery placement. The I10 Rivalry has been wanting for a long time now.
That is changing as we speak. Last season’s acquisition of James Harden completely altered the Rockets' outlook, and with the coup that brought in Dwight Howard this summer, the ceiling for this Rockets squad has risen substantially. The Rockets have a roster that many consider to be a legitimate title contender.
All of these changes would have been impossible without the vision of General Manager Daryl Morey. Tired of running second (or third, really) fiddle in Texas, Morey orchestrated a bold strategy to move his team past the vagaries of a rebuilding phase. Nabbing Dwight Howard was his biggest move yet, as he stole him away from a team with a history and an audience unlike any other team in the league.
So what movie works best for this game, likely to be the best of the Spurs/Rockets matchups this year? In Iron Man 2, Justin Hammer is annoyed at being on a tier lower than Tony Stark. So he enlists the help of a hulkish weirdo nomad to put him over the top. "Hulkish weirdo nomad." You know where this is going. Ed Hardy’s main man is giant, weird, has been on three teams in the last three years, and was enlisted by a disgruntled genius tired of finishing last. Yeah, this one writes itself.
Must Watch Game: #2 – October 30, vs Memphis Grizzlies
As The Dark Knight Rises opens, the hero Gotham needs is now the hero that needs a cane and walks with a noticeable limp. Bruce Wayne masks his identity even as the scars of his last battle attempt to betray his secret. But he’s forced out of retirement for what appears to be one final fight against a bruising and, as we later learn, retooled enemy.
It probably goes without saying that this season, like most since their last title, will be described as possibly the last run for these Spurs. And perhaps more than any other season, this Spurs team enters bruised and battered from their last great battle. It was only months ago that most of us were predicting that a Spurs/Grizzlies playoff series would go the distance. What happened in the Western Conference Finals was swift and shocking, and the Grizzlies have responded accordingly.
But this game won't really be about the Grizzlies as much as it will be about the Spurs. How will they carry themselves on opening night? Will they show the effects of the Finals collapse? Opening nights are generally pretty meaningless, but that's only because, for most teams, the end of the season is pretty meaningless. The extreme drama of their exit last season makes the entrance in this one exceptional, a potentially galvanizing event for the team and its still recovering fanbase.
Must Watch Game: #1 – January 26, at Miami Heat
I’ll be honest. There isn’t really a great comparison for this game. This matchup is going to be the highlight of the Spurs season because, well, it has to be. Last year’s Finals were the best in what feels like a generation, and Game 6, in particular, completely destroyed all of us. I’m tempted to just put the best superhero movie here – The Dark Knight, if you’ve been in a coma – but the comparisons don’t work.
There’s nothing I can say here about that series that hasn’t already been said with greater eloquence by better writers. Lebron James is otherworldly. He has no discernible weaknesses, and he led his team perfectly last year in competing against the Spurs in every aspect of the game. It was likely the most personally destructive playoff series Spurs fans will ever witness.
In short, Lebron James is Zod.
Each of the Spurs/Heat games this season will feel like that final ridiculous battle in Man of Steel. With everything already destroyed in the wake of their last battle, one might ask what stands to be gained from another fight? But like the movie needed a final act (Note: It needed much more than that.), this matchup needs something else. It needs another chapter. Closure? Repair? Renewal? In any other season, a regular season game between these two teams wouldn’t matter. This one? At the same place where it all fell apart? It’s a fistfight on a pile of ash, and we’ll be helpless observers, hanging on every swing.
In conclusion, allow me to qualify this short list with two statements. First of all, this list is by no means exhaustive. The Spurs are a great team, and you should watch as many games this season as you can. Second, there were many runners up. The November 8 home game against Golden State, for example, nearly made the list. But a compilation like this can only be so long, and at this point, I've written nearly 2,000 words of semi-coherent gibberish.
Finally, if you enjoyed this bit of dementia, the "Bottom Five" list will be coming shortly. In the mean time, I'm interested to hear what you think. What games did I miss in this list? What games do you think will make the bottom list? Which game will get compared to Catwoman? Have at it, friends.