I'm not a fan of the San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Clippers, but I love great offensive NBA basketball. And the first-round playoff series between those two teams this past spring had to go down as one of the best non-Finals playoffs series in league history. And the irony is, we wouldn't see that matchup this season if everything was the same.
San Antonio was upset 108-103 in the regular-season finale at New Orleans to close last regular season. That had a major domino effect. For one, it got the Pelicans the No. 8 seed in the West over Oklahoma City, which missed the playoffs. Had the Spurs won, they would have been the Southwest Division champions for the fifth straight season and the No. 2 seed in the West. Instead, the dropped San Antonio all the way to No. 6 even though it had a better record (55-27) than No. 4 seed Portland, which earned the No. 4 because it was a division champion. The NBA will seed going forward only on overall record; division titles would be used as a potential second tiebreaker after head-to-head record.
So unfortunately for San Antonio, that loss meant a first-round matchup with the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers instead of a pretty average Dallas team (that I guarantee the Spurs beat). That Clippers-Spurs series was such great theater. It ended, as it should have, in the final seconds of Game 7 with Chris Paul hitting the shot of his life over Tim Duncan. I think the Spurs could have beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals had they met. But now we will never know.
Spurs 2015-16 Season Betting Story Lines
Teams that "win" free agency in the NFL often end up flopping. But those that do in the NBA generally have great seasons and the Spurs were the big winners of free agency this summer. They were able to re-sign rising superstar and 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard to a five-year, $90 million max deal -- a deal that will look even better next summer when the cap explodes. San Antonio worked that deal in such a way that if left the team with some money to sign other guys before Leonard put his John Hancock on the contract.
In a minor upset, sharpshooter Danny Green re-signed with San Antonio for a hometown discount of four years, $45 million. Green is one of the NBA's best 3-point shooters and had a career year last season, averaging 11.7 points and 4.2 rebounds. To sign Green and keep salary-cap room still open, the Spurs traded center Tiago Splitter to Atlanta. And that opened up the final space needed to ink the biggest-name free agent to switch teams: Portland All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge. He got four years and $80 million with an opt out after the third year.
Now this team going forward will belong to Leonard and Aldridge with future the Hall of Famer Duncan expected to retire after this season and Manu Ginobili likely to join him. Point guard Tony Parker is still a fine player but getting up there in years and starting to break down. Aldridge, a Texas native, chose the Spurs over the Lakers, Rockets, Mavericks, Raptors and Heat. His signing immediately jumped San Antonio into the favored role to win the West at sportsbooks. Aldridge has averaged more than 20 points per game each of the past five seasons, finishing with a career-high 23.4 in 2014-15 with 10.2 rebounds per game.
A starting five of Parker, Green, Leonard, Aldridge and Duncan might be the NBA's best, although the Cleveland Cavaliers when healthy would have an argument. The bench will be led by Ginobili, Boris Diaw, new addition David West, who took a major discount to sign as a free agent as he wants a title, and Patty Mills. If there's one worry, there's really no strong backup center to Duncan with Splitter gone. And Coach Gregg Popovich is going to limit Duncan's minutes this season for sure. Ditto Parker and Ginobili.
Spurs 2015-16 Betting Odds
At BetOnline, the Spurs are -125 favorites to win the Southwest Division, +225 favorites (yes, over the Warriors) to win the Western Conference and +400 second-favorites behind Cleveland to win the NBA title. San Antonio has an "over/under" wins total of 57.5, with the under a -125 favorite. Leonard is +3300 to win NBA MVP honors. Aldridge is +6600 both to lead the NBA in points per game as well as in rebounds per game.
Spurs 2015-16 Betting Predictions
The statistical website FiveThirtyEight projects the Spurs to go 56-26 this season. I do have some concerns about Parker's health. He hasn't played in more than 70 games in any of the last three seasons and wasn't healthy late in that Clippers series or it may have ended differently. I wouldn't count on Parker playing more than 70 games. Ditto Ginobili. Duncan probably 75 and not more than 30 minutes a night. Pop doesn't care about regular-season records or seeding.
I'm going under the wins and I actually don't think San Antonio even wins its division, the toughest one in the NBA by far. If everyone is healthy, though, it could win the West. Right now, I don't see that as a wise bet. None of the individual ones are either.
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