A little taste of history in the series out West that continue the NBA playoffs, as the San Antonio Spurs meet a very familiar playoff foe in the Dallas Mavericks, while the Houston Rockets face the last team they’ve managed to beat in a postseason series, the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Spurs enter the playoffs as the number one team in the league following their fourth 60-win season in 11 year (62-20), which included beating the Mavs four times and nine times in a row against them. It’ll be the sixth time the two teams meet in the postseason since the 2000-01 season, and their 29 games in the previous 13 postseasons are the second-most in the league behind the Spurs and Lakers.
The Spurs are 54-14 when Leonard plays this season, and he might slowly be becoming the team’s best and most important player. The Spurs struggled when he was out with a broken hand, and his ability to defend while adding a dimension of toughness and speed to this team sometimes is greater than what Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili bring to the floor. The Spurs seem like the total package, only without a real superstar.
The Mavs are quite the opposite. A team with many flaws, especially on defense, but Dirk Nowitzki refusing to fade away and Monta Ellis, doing a very good job as his crutch to lean on with some explosive performances. It’s going to be the way Ellis and Calderon are able to push this team and keep a high pace of scoring that determines whether the Mavs are in this one for a real fight or another unflattering sweep.
In Houston, the Rockets get ready to take the next step in their rebuilding phase. Last season was about becoming relevant again and making the playoffs for the first time in the post Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era. James Harden seems to be doing a good enough to job to consider them as favorites, with a talented supporting cast of Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and others.
The Blazers, for a moment, looked like the best team in the West this season. But hot shooting doesn’t last forever. Defense, rebounding and foundations do. Few teams look as exciting and fun to watch as the Blazers when Lillard and Aldridge are in their can’t miss mode, but the longer the season dragged on, the more we got to see of their bad side, which included an offense that struggles without hitting 3’s and a defense that has a lot of work to do.
These two teams are here to stay for more than just this season, but right now the Rockets look better. Both Harden and Howard were a bit too much for the Blazers to handle, and even if this becomes a shooting contest, the Rockets have more firepower to bring to the table, in their lineup and coming off the bench.