When the San Antonio Spurs were briefly making a push for the Western Conference’s no. 1 seed, their biggest incentive was to avoid a potential round two matchup with the Houston Rockets.
That opportunity evaporated when the Golden State Warriors got things together and the Spurs ended up cruising through the last month of the regular season the way they very well may have anyway.
They didn’t quite cruise past the Memphis Grizzlies, but the Spurs looked strong and healthy in their six-game victory, as evidenced by Tony Parker‘s superb play in the final three games of the series in which he averaged nearly 22 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets didn’t play great by many people’s assessment and still managed to oust Russell Westbrook in five games.
The Rockets have had five days off and the Spurs three. Game one tips tonight in San Antonio.
These two teams played four times in the regular season with the Spurs winning three. The series was as competitive as any for either team, however.
The first game went to Houston, in San Antonio, by a bucket on November 9. Three days later, the Spurs got some revenge by winning in Houston by six. The Spurs won on the road again, five days before Christmas, this time by a deuce and they just barely defended their home court in March, again winning by two.
So three of the four games were decided by two points, the other by six, and both teams won in the other’s building. That’s a lot of the reason why this matchup is drawing the most interest from across the league.
Most of the rest has to do with the each team’s star. The two best guys the Spurs have to throw at James Harden are Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is the obvious choice on high-leverage possessions but it will be interesting to see how much he does mark Harden one-on-one. He carries an immense offensive burden (over 30 a game in round one vs. Memphis) and it’s imperative that he stay out of foul trouble; Harden shot 73 free throws in five games against Oklahoma City.
Leonard may be the only guy who can guard Harden without fouling that much, but if he gets into any sort of foul trouble, it’s over for San Antonio.
At the same time, Houston doesn’t appear to have any sort of answer for Leonard on the other end of the floor. All four games in the regular season were right around 200 point totals and the oddsmakers have set game one’s total at 214, which is kind of where I was thinking this series will be. The Spurs will try to slow the Rockets down but a lot depends on Tony Parker’s ability to play well, like he did against Memphis.
This will be an enthralling series and until I see one side pull away at least once, I have to take the points.
Free Pick: Houston +6