The San Antonio Spurs are looking to defend their title as a sixth seed in the Western Conference, and they will be in what will likely go down as an epic first round in the Western Conference playoffs.
This is unfortunate for the Spurs and their opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers. Both of these teams have a realistic chance of making it to the NBA Finals, but since they are playing each other, only one of them can advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Despite their status as a team who will have to return to the Finals without any home-court advantage, the Spurs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now.
They won 11 games in a row before dropping their regular-season finale to the New Orleans Pelicans, who backed into the playoffs as a result.
The Spurs had a mediocre start to their 2014-15 season, and they even looked like they were in danger of missing the playoffs at one point.
However, head coach Gregg Popovich and power forward Tim Duncan continued to show their exceptional leadership as the Spurs rediscovered their playoff form toward the end of the season and won 21 of their last 25 games.
Duncan may not be the same player that he was in the 90s and early 2000s, but he continues to be an excellent rebounder and solid scorer at 38 years old.
He knows his role with the team and averaged 13.9 points and a team-leading 9.1 rebounds per game this season.
Small forward Kawhi Leonard picked up right where he left off after being the 2014 NBA Finals MVP by leading the Spurs in scoring with 16.5 points per game while ranking second in rebounds with 7.2.
Point guard Tony Parker also provides reliable veteran leadership while shooting guard Danny Green continues to be a three-point shooting ace.
It doesn’t hurt that the Spurs have a deep bench as well with players such as Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills. This enables Popovich to employ his team-first philosophy that has made the Spurs successful since 1995.
Meanwhile, the Clippers also have a bona fide defender in center DeAndre Jordan, who has established himself as one of the best big men in the NBA by leading the league in rebounding with 15 per game.
His scoring is nothing to ignore either as he averaged 14.6 points and 15.8 rebounds in his last five games, and he made a whopping 71 percent of his shots this season.
Power forward Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul continue to pose a nightmare for opposing defenses as one of the premier duos in the NBA. Paul finished with 19.1 points and 10.2 assists per game as Griffin scored 21.9 points while grabbing 7.6 rebounds a game.
While it is not deep like the Spurs, the Clippers have a solid bench with two-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Austin Rivers.
However, the Clippers’ defense does not match up well with the Spurs’, as they finished 16th in the NBA with 100.1 points allowed per game.
The Spurs, meanwhile, proved that they still have one of the elite defenses in the NBA by ranking third with 97 points allowed per game, and their offense ranked 7th with 103.2 points per game.
The key matchups will be an elite point guard battle between Paul and Parker while Griffin will look to prove that he can be a mean defender while still scoring and rebounding like Duncan.
Although the Clippers will never be easy to beat, the Spurs will be hungry to bounce back with a win and enter the playoffs with authority as they begin on the road. Look for the Spurs to win in a thriller.
Prediction: Spurs 99, Clippers 95