Nothing proves the NBA playoffs are all about matchups better than this season; it wouldn't be a surprise to see any of the West's top seven in the second round, or even the Western Conference Championship. The seeding is still very much in flux, and the Spurs are in prime position to "pick" their playoff draw. Of the potential first round matchups the Spurs could have, which would they prefer?
(The order of teams in this list is based on the likelihood of the matchup occurring. The Matchup Number corresponds to how much the Spurs would like to play this team, with 1 being the most desirable and 4 being the least.)
Houston Rockets (series tied 1-1, two left to play)
Matchup Number: 3
The Rockets have had the Spurs' number for a few years now. They have multiple athletic wings (Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, Corey Brewer, and Terrence Jones), an MVP contender (James Harden), one of the league's best and biggest centers (Dwight Howard), and a feisty defensive point guard (Patrick Beverley). This roster is basically built on being a matchup nightmare for the Spurs.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, health has been a major issue for several of these core players. Jones has missed 48 games with nerve inflammation in his leg and a collapsed lung, Dwight's been sidelined most of the season with knee issues, and Beverley ‘probably won't be back' for the playoffs after tearing a ligament in his wrist.
The Rocket backcourt is incredibly thin behind Beverley, with Pablo Prigioni and Corey Brewer as the only two I'd expect to see minutes in the postseason. There will always be a mismatch on offense that the Spurs can take advantage of unless Kevin McHale consistently opts for a lineup of Brewer, Harden, Ariza, Smith, and Howard. The problem is that this lineup is a potential offensive disaster with three non-shooters and a player who can almost exclusively spot-up. Harden is a notorious Spur-killer, and Houston is loaded with the type of lanky wings that typically give San Antonio hell, but the Rockets have lost some of that fear factor without Patrick Beverley wreaking havoc on Parker and Patty.
Memphis Grizzlies (series tied 2-2)
Matchup Number: 2
The last time the Memphis Grizzlies beat a healthy Spurs team was January 11, 2013. Tiago's defense on Zach Randolph is always the focal point of the conversation when it comes to the Memphis matchup, as it should be. For a player who has been touted as "soft" over the majority of his career, Splitter is one of the few players in the league who can consistently limit Z-Bo without the help of double-teams.
Splitter isn't the only reason San Antonio has dominated Memphis since that destructive series in 2011. Kawhi Leonard creates problems for Memphis on both ends of the floor and pairs with Danny to form a vicious help defense duo on Marc Gasol and Randolph in the post.
That help defense might not be as sustainable in a playoff series against the Grizzlies this year with the addition of two competent three point shooters in Jeff Green and Vince Carter. We have yet to see the current full rosters play each other this season - the recent 103-89 victory sans Tony Allen is the closest glimpse we've had - but the Spurs have to feel confident about this matchup in a seven game series.
Portland Trailblazers (Portland won 3-1)
Matchup Number: 1
Mid-way through January, the Blazers looked like the real deal. They were 31-11 with the third best record in the league. A few days later, LaMarcus Aldridge tore a ligament in his non-shooting hand and required surgery that would put him out for two months. He infamously put off the surgery till the summer, believing that Portland had the talent and chemistry to contend for a title.
With the addition of Arron Afflalo at the trade deadline, the Blazers picked up some much needed depth and the title hopes seemed legitimate. Roughly three weeks later, Wes Mathews tore his Achilles and that Afflalo trade turned out to be more essential than supplemental for Portland's hopes to even secure a playoff spot.
Is this Blazers team better than the one that the Spurs curb-stomped last year? With the additions of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, they're definitely deeper. However, Afflalo is a toned down version of Matthews, and we have no idea whether Aldridge can sustain his torrid pace in the postseason. Portland may have improved, but with a hurt Aldridge and no Wes, the Spurs should be licking their chops at heading to Rip City for the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers (series tied 2-2)
Matchup Number: 4
Despite all of Houston's injuries, the Rockets are probably a worse matchup for the Spurs. Hell, it could even be argued that the Rockets are the worst matchup for the Spurs. But with the way the Clippers have performed over the past month and a half - without Blake Griffin for a good portion of that stretch, no less - the Los Angeles Clippers may be a more intimidating matchup.
DeAndre Jordan has undergone a mid-season transformation into Bill Russ-Olajuwon-Jabbar, J.J. Redick has found his shooting stroke, and Chris Paul has low-key inserted his name into the MVP conversation. The Blake Griffin elbow surgery has elevated Doc's boys, including his literal boy, to the most impressive stretch we've seen from the Clippers this season.
As great as Los Angeles has looked, there are still major questions. Is it safe for Matt Barnes to start on a playoff contender? Can Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes, and Hedo Turkoglu seriously hold a lead in the postseason? Are Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes, and Hedo Turkoglu seriously still playing basketball professionally? This team is balling out right now, but Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard are potentially major matchup issues for the Clippers that I'm not sure Doc can solve.
The Spurs have a tough schedule to close out the season, but it wouldn't be surprising to see them go 8-1 or 9-0 with the way they're playing right now. While they might not get home court advantage for the playoffs, San Antonio has the opportunity to pick its first round opponent. Pop likely doesn't care about what teams he faces in the playoffs, and justifiably so if he expects his team to win it all, but there's no harm in an easier journey to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.