When we last saw the San Antonio Spurs, they were playing the game at such a high level that they went through LeBron James and the Miami Heat like a buzzsaw en route to an easier-than-expected NBA title.
In fact, San Antonio ran through the Blazers and Thunder in similar fashion during the postseason, with only one team giving them any trouble at all: their opening night opponent, the Dallas Mavericks.
It’ll be a well-deserved ring ceremony followed by a raising of the franchise’s fifth championship banner when things get going Tuesday night, but it may deteriorate from there for the Spurs, given the way each team is primed to begin the season.
Dallas reloaded quite nicely this summer, bringing back Tyson Chandler to help improve a defense that ranked just 22nd in efficiency last year. They lost an above average point guard in Jose Calderon in the deal, but replaced him with Jameer Nelson, a veteran who does a better job at running the show than most people realize.
The loss of Shawn Marion in free agency may hurt a little defensively, but the Mavericks believe the offensive trade-off with the acquisition of Chandler Parsons will be well worth it. Parsons averaged 15.9 points in Houston last year, and that was with James Harden taking the bulk of the shots. In Dallas, while the offense will be more balanced and there will be nights when Dirk Nowitzki gets plenty of looks, Parsons will have many more chances to make his impact felt on the offensive end of the floor.
Depth is the biggest concern for the Mavericks, with the loss of Vince Carter appearing to be the most damaging. Carter played in 81 regular season games exclusively in a reserve role, and finished third on the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game in 24.4 minutes per contest. It’s part of the reason Dallas ate the guaranteed contract of Bernard James to add Charlie Villanueva, who Mark Cuban said has been “instant offense” for his team during the preseason.
On San Antonio’s side, the team will begin the season with two of their starters out due to injury. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has been dealing with an eye infection for most of the preseason, and Tiago Splitter has been bothered by a calf injury that will similarly keep him sidelined for this one.
The Spurs brought back essentially the entirety of their championship roster, however, and though the team looked disinterested for most of the preseason, it’s likely that ring night will provide the veterans with the spark needed to help them regain their focus. And, the team is plenty deep enough to overcome the loss of Leonard offensively, with guys like Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Danny Green more than capable of stepping up.
Even so, I like the Mavericks chances here. They gave the Spurs fits with their elite level of offense in last year’s playoffs, and though there are some new pieces in place, Rick Carlisle is one of the league’s better coaches, and will have his guys ready for a rematch with the defending champs. Given all of the factors in play, an upset win for Dallas wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.