Last postseason produced some memorable battles within the NBA's better conference. Damian Lillard helped turn Portland's first-round series against Houston into a six-act masterpiece; the Clippers set aside the Donald Sterling debacle and put away Mark Jackson's Warriors (whom they still don't seem to like very much), while a Vince Carter three-pointer nearly derailed San Antonio's eventual do-si-do to the Promised Land.
It's still January, but we can already see the glimmer of the early 2015 postseason over the horizon. And, if you squint hard enough, the West's side of the picture might just resemble the circular silhouette of a self-consuming beast -- one whose head and tail are hard to tell apart at first glance.
Sure, teams seeded one through eight (or nine) aren't all necessarily equal in talent but -- just like Pokemon types or Zodiac symbols -- these squads don't simply sit on a single value spectrum. Playing styles and positional strengths vary to the point that who you're matched up with matters more than getting one more game at home. It's a storyline that will impact all teams, including the Spurs, and will be interesting to follow in the coming months.
I've looked at some of the key matchups below, trying to determine which teams are the scissors to the Spurs' paper, and vice versa, as well as the other top contenders. It's not a comprehensive statistical analysis, but the numbers I give (record and point-differential) tell part of the story. Hopefully your comments will fill in the rest.
Here's what the top nine looks like as of January 25th:
|Golden State Warriors
|San Antonio Spurs
|Oklahoma City Thunder
With all due respect to our future overlord, Anthony Davis, I've left the New Orleans Pelicans off the list. I considered doing the same with the Suns, what with the rising Thunder recently eclipsing the .500 mark for the first time this year, but Phoenix is holding on strong to the 8th seed and you can't yet say OKC is a lock. Yet. Plus, who am I to ignore PTR's own J. Gomez?
Spurs - Warriors (5-0, +4.2)
The Warriors are 34-6 and absolutely crushing teams with a double-digit point-differential. I'm going to pencil them in as a top seed for this exercise, which makes them a potential first-round matchup for the Spurs, currently sitting in seventh place. San Antonio has won all five games since the start of last year, sweeping that season series and winning the sole matchup in 2014-15 -- which is actually the last time any team beat Golden State at home (they've won 19 in a row since). Andrew Bogut's health is a seven-foot-high caveat to the Warriors' championship prospects, but so might be whether or not they face the Silver and Black.
Rockets - Spurs (5-1, +5.8)
The other side of the coin for San Antonio are the Houston Rockets, who have had the Spurs' number during the James Harden-Dwight Howard era. Dwight's always been a tough mark for Timmy and company due to his strength and athleticism (and flatulence), and Harden is making life difficult for just about everyone in the league.
Warriors - Rockets (5-3, +2.0)
Completing the love triangle is this matchup. The Warriors just swept Houston after beating them, 126-113, Wednesday night. The win came after Houston players were quoted as saying Golden State wasn't "that good", which prompted a Splash Brothers rain of Biblical proportions. This could be a potential 1 versus 4-5 matchup in the second round, and probably one Houston would rather avoid.
Grizzlies - Clippers (4-2, +1.5)
There are certain big men that Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol just seem to relish playing against. The Bogut-less duo of David Lee and Draymond Green is one, and so are the two guys in LA. Memphis isn't the same grit-and-grind team it once was, but they can still revert to that play when necessary. The Spurs and the Grizz might be the two teams LA would least like to play.
Spurs - Grizzlies (5-2, +6.9)
What I just said about Z-Bo and Gasol circling games against those guys works the same for Matt Bonner and Zach Randolph, at least on the defensive end. Fun fact: Bonner's combined points and rebounds per game total 6.9, same as the point-differential between these two teams. Coincidence? You decide.
Thunder - Spurs (7-4, -1.6)
The Spurs actually have a positive point-differential in this series, but that doesn't make this postseason matchup any more enticing, given that we can't clone Kawhi to guard both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The Thunder missed Serge Ibaka for two games in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, and at full strength (plus a new weapon in Dion Waiters) they're a very, very scary team.
Mavericks - Thunder (3-1, +5.8)
The Mavs, however, have won three of four against OKC, with a respectable point-differential to boot. Does the addition of Rajon Rondo improve their chances even more at containing Russell Westbrook?
Clippers - Suns (4-1, +2.8)
The Clippers have an advantage at most positions in this matchup, which isn't very likely to happen given the way things currently stand. Still, if the Suns hold on to the eighth seed, they could circle this is an ideal second-round series, especially if the following happens...
Suns - Blazers (4-1, +10.4)
Portland does not like playing in the desert. The Suns have won seven straight home games against the Blazers, with an even more impressive stretch that dates back almost a decade. But today's Suns as we know them have had a win-differential that is hard to ignore against the Blazers, even if it's a small sample size. The injury to LaMarcus Aldridge (who's put off thumb surgery unltil the summer) makes this series all the less likely, which might be a bit of a bummer for a Suns team that refuses to concede the last playoff spot to Oklahoma City.
So, what do you think of these matchups, and are there any I didn't mention that you feel strongly about?