The San Antonio Spurs are entering the NBA postseason with their heads held high. Their season went under the radar with so much attention on the Golden State Warriors and the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
This season featured a new star in town after the acquisition of DeMar DeRozan. The summer trade shocked the world but DeRozan found comfort under the system of Coach Gregg Popovich and helped the Spurs to success. They rolled into the Playoffs with a 48-34 record and the seventh seed. Now they’re looking to make noise and ruffle feathers while trying to upset some of the higher seeds during this postseason run.
The number two seeded Denver Nuggets are up first for the Spurs. This Nuggets season has been one to remember for the franchise. They’ve been slowly getting better over the years and they finally reached success as they’re entering the postseason for the first time since 2013. The regular season matchup between these two teams was evenly matched. Both teams won two times each out of their four games this season.
The key for the Spurs is to attack Nikola Jokic and make him work for everything on the offensive end. He’s heavily relied on as he provides everything for the Nuggets with his great talent on offense which means Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge will have their hands full during this series.
However, with this system that Popovich leads, it will force Jokic to work a lot on defense. If the Spurs can pull him away from the paint and attack him through drives and Aldridge post-ups, that will leave the Nuggets interior exposed and could potentially put Jokic in foul trouble. The Spurs will be a tough matchup for the Nuggets and they have a big opportunity to upset the number two seed.
Game 1 @ Denver (Saturday, Apr. 13 – 10:30 PM EST, ESPN)
Game 2 @ Denver (Tuesday, Apr. 16 – 9:00 PM EST, NBATV)
Game 3 @ San Antonio (Thursday, Apr. 18 – 9:00 PM EST, NBATV)
Game 4 @ San Antonio (Saturday, Apr. 20 – 5:30 PM EST, TNT)
Game 5 @ Denver (Tuesday, Apr. 23 – If Necessary)
Game 6 @ San Antonio (Thursday, Apr. 25 – If Necessary)
Game 7 @ Denver (Saturday, Apr. 27 – If Necessary)
How Can They Succeed?
Success for the Spurs will be led by their role players. They already know what Aldridge and DeRozan provide on a nightly basis but the question is can their role players step up, knock down shots and be efficient. They play a motion-based offense where everyone touches the ball but guys have to be a threat to take the pressure off of their two stars. Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes, and Marco Belinelli are the next three leading scorers all averaging doubling figures.
Another point of emphasis will be the defense. Unlike many Popovich-led teams, this Spurs team was deficient on the defensive side of the ball. They were ranked towards the bottom half of the NBA with a defensive rating of 110.5 and averaged 14.1 fast break points allowed. They’re saved due to their high octane offense which is in the top ten of the league. However, a disciplined defense will have to be on display if the Spurs are going to go far in the playoffs.
Their potential opponents are all top-ten offenses. Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Denver Nuggets have highly talented superstars that lead their top tier offenses. If the Spurs can’t get stops then their NBA Finals hopes might end early.
Who is their X-Factor?
The guy who has to step up is DeMar DeRozan. He’s had a solid season during his first year in San Antonio but now everyone is watching to see if he can rise up and elevate his team deep into the playoffs. The pressure is on for DeRozan because as we all know, the postseason hasn’t been his best friend. Out in the Eastern Conference, his old-time rival LeBron James ended his NBA Finals hopes time and time again but this year is different.
DeRozan is talented and a well-known scorer cut from that Mamba cloth. However, can he finally turn that corner? We’ve been waiting for him to reach that top-tier superstar level and that just hasn’t happened yet. If he’s playing up to his potential and truly looking to be aggressive, then the Spurs have the best chance to go far.
One positive stat in their favor
Defensive efficiency is the stat for the Spurs. That might be shocking since their defense is ranked amongst the worst as mentioned earlier, however, if you look at their efficiency during the second half of the season, it’s amongst the best at 108.0. It’s best to find your stride going into the playoffs and the Spurs have done that. Their improved defense led them to a 15-8 record in their final 23 games. They will have to use that momentum to carry them throughout the playoffs if they’re going to have success.