The San Antonio Spurs clinched the number one seed earlier this week after they stomped the Portland Trail Blazers by 35. The Utah Jazz secured their position after defeating the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. If your looking for a basic preview, I encourage you go to read this first, and then come back. Here, I’m going on a position by position breakdown. Let’s get right to it (Note: these are projected starting lineups).
Tony Parker should be in the MVP debate, as he carried this team when Manu Ginobili was injured. Parker is one of the best guards in the NBA, even if he does not get enough credit. The Spurs offense has transitioned through the years from running through Tim Duncan, to Ginobili, and now Parker. Devin Harris has not been the same player since he left the Dallas Mavericks. He used to terrorize the Spurs in that system, being hailed as the next big thing. We are still waiting.
I’d call this a tie. Green was nearly cut before the season started, but now has become one most clutch players for the Spurs. Hayward is still a very raw talent from Butler, but has been improving nicely this season. Since the beginning of April, he has averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Green has made clutch shot after clutch shot for the Spurs, and with a PER of 15, is almost exactly the same as Hayward’s.
SF: Kawhi Leonard vs DeMarre Carroll
Leonard has both the offensive tools and defensive capabilities to take on Carroll, a second year player from Missouri. Carroll isn’t the offensive threat that Hayward, Millsap, or Al Jefferson are, but don’t leave him out. However, advantage Leonard, who can shoot the ball and is an under rated rebounder.
The Spurs have a nice trio of players who can rotate in, but I’d argue that Millsap is better than all three. He’s more polished offensively, better defensively, but does give up height to Diaw and Bonner. This matchup could decide the series, as the Spurs could be exploited on the defensive end if they choose not to rotate and help out whoever is guarding Millsap.
I’d also call this one a tie, because we really don’t know which Tim Duncan we are going to get. If the All-Star worthy Duncan shows up, Duncan still has just of a skill set to dominate Jefferson. But if the older, slower Duncan shows up, advantage Jefferson. Duncan will still get his points and defensive stops, but Jefferson could dominate inside.
Spurs Bench vs Jazz Bench
No contest here. Anytime you have Manu Ginobili coming off the bench, it’s almost an unfair advantage. The Spurs also have a plethora of players who, individually aren’t a whole lot, but as a unit they are as good or better than some teams starting five. The Jazz don’t have anyone that scares me coming off the bench, though someone could get hot pretty quick. They also may have the deepest bench in the league.
X Factor: Rest
Gregg Popovich has defied everyone this season by resting starters. While Utah was fighting for playoff position, Popovich had his starters sitting quarters, halves, and even games at a time. Only two Spurs players average over 25 minutes per game: Duncan at 28.5 (a career low), and Parker at 32.5. Not only do the Spurs have a pretty healthy team, they have a fresh team. That could be a huge advantage in this series.
I still like the Spurs in five. The Jazz may have some better individual skill players at positions, but the Spurs have cohesion, trust, and experience playing together that few teams do. In a strike shortened season with minimal practices, it has been a big advantage.
Follow Paul Troupe on Twitter @gamin4HIM