2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Spurs (2) – Rockets (3)

2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Spurs (2) – Rockets (3)

Series Schedule:

Game 1: Monday 5/1 @ San Antonio

Game 2: Wednesday, 5/3 @ San Antonio

Game 3: Friday, 5/5 @ Houston

Game 4: Sunday, 5/7 @ Houston

Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, 5/9 @ San Antonio

Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, 5/11 @ Houston

Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, 5/14 @ San Antonio

Regular Season Series Results:

The Spurs took a competitive season series from the Rockets 3-1.

Players To Watch:

San Antonio Spurs:

Kawhi Leonard: I mean, duh. He averaged 31.2 points per game in the first round with 55/48/97 shooting splits plus his usual excellent defense. More than that, though, he carried a Spurs team that probably relies too much on an aging Tony Parker for offense. Kawhi used 31.5% of the Spurs' possessions in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies, right in line with his usage rate this year of 31.5%. Only two players in the Popovich era have posted usage rates that high: Leonard this year and Tony Parker in 2008-09 when he used 31.7% of the Spurs' plays.

There is a stark contrast in the way that those players used their possessions, though. That year, Parker operated more as the maestro of the beautiful machine that is the Spurs offense. He greased the the wheels of the machine and made it run smoothly, but he was still just a cog. Leonard has had to do it all by himself. There were very few Spursgasms in the first round partially because the supporting cast is a little weaker than in years past, but partly because Leonard is just so ruthlessly efficient in isolation that at times that he's become the Spurs' best offense. If ESPN can find the money after the Bristol Massacre, they should probably just recreate this commercial, with a newer model.


LaMarcus Aldridge: The Spurs are going to need more from Aldridge this series. He averaged a paltry 14.8 points per game in the first round -- not exactly what the Spurs had in mind when they signed him two summers ago. Even after showing some signs of decline in the regular season, Aldridge should still have something left in the tank. If he's being guarded by Ryan Anderson, the Spurs need Aldridge to resemble the player from last year's series against Oklahoma City rather than the version they got last round. If he can't produce more, the Spurs could be in trouble.

Tony Parker: Parker is a problem on defense. Not that this is a new phenomenon, but it's still worth noting. "Perpetually Underrated Mike Conley" had a bit of a coming out party in the first round as he torched Parker and the Spurs to the tune of 25 points on 48/45/84 splits. Parker won't have to check anyone on the Rockets close to Conley's level, but Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley could give him some problems. He's so important to the Spurs as a secondary creator that he's going to have to play major minutes. His ability to hang defensively will have a major impact on the Spurs' chances in this series.

Houston Rockets:

Patrick Beverley: It will be up to Beverley to shut down Parker and Patty Mills and to exploit them on the opposite end of the floor. He did an admirable job antagonizing (MVP?) Russell Westbrook last round, so Beverley will likely be able to hold up against the feisty Spurs guards on D. The Rockets will need him to contribute offensively as well. Kawhi Leonard will have his hands full guarding James Harden, so it will be important for Beverley to knock down his open shots.

Trevor Ariza: On a team devoid of great perimeter defenders, Ariza is the Rockets' best, and perhaps only option to guard Kawhi Leonard. His ability to contain the Kawhi-bot will determine how successful the Rockets can be against the Spurs. Houston will need to make other guys on the Spurs beat them, and Ariza's ability to check Kawhi will determine how effective that strategy can be. Look for Mike D'Antoni to try to have Ariza on the floor at the same time as Kawhi as often as possible.

Lou Williams: After having averaging 18.8 points per game against the Thunder, and finally shaking some of the playoff ghosts that have haunted him over his career, Williams will have to prove that he can keep it up. Williams, like Beverley and Gordon, will likely see one of the Spurs point guards on him frequently this series. He'll have to continue making shots -- and prove that last round's performance was no fluke -- for the Rockets this series.

As you can probably tell from the player sections, the ability of the Spurs' guards to play defense, and the Rockets' guards to exploit their lack of defense looms as a *DJ Khaled voice* major key in this series. These two Texas teams met four times in the regular season, and the winner's average margin of victory was three points. It's gonna be a close series. The Rockets will shoot a bajillion 3-pointers, as they do, while the Spurs will play their patented brand of fundamental, unselfish basketball, as they do. Both of these teams know who they are and know each other pretty well too. As is the case with most series, the ability to make adjustments on the fly will dictate who wins this one. At the end of the day, give me the greatest coach of all time with the highly advanced android at his disposal. Spurs in 7.