First-round preview: No 1. Spurs vs. No. 8 Jazz
Two weeks ago, this would have felt like a San Antonio walkover. The Spurs have destroyed the league of late, outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions -- an unthinkable number -- over their last 20 games and generally peaking at the right time. The Jazz have been a nice story, but they are the worst defensive team among all playoff clubs, precisely the kind of slow-footed group the Spurs slice apart with fast-moving pick-and-rolls, quick passes and gobs of three-pointers. The Spurs scored well and rained threes in taking three of four from the Jazz, and their only loss came in a late-season game in which Gregg Popovich rested Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
But the Jazz, almost by accident, appear to have found lightning in a bottle with a super-big lineup that has transformed their defense in limited minutes. Suddenly, they look like a team that could present the same size issues Memphis used to upset the Spurs last season.
In other words, while the Jazz are a very good post game, they don't have two behemoths on the level of the Randolph/Marc Gasol combination that undid San Antonio last season. That, combined with Utah's shaky defense, would appear to make the Spurs bigger favorites here than they were against Memphis.
Using Millsap at small forward makes Utah slower, and that could be a death sentence against San Antonio's fast side-to-side attack. But it also makes Utah longer, capable of getting into passing lanes and blocking shots. Will Corbin use it extensively in this series?
A sweep prediction would have been in order two weeks ago, but Utah may well be a different team now -- provided Corbin plays to the strengths of his roster. Still, this is not the Spurs team that tripped up last postseason. Ginobili is healthy, Duncan looks spry, the bench is deeper, the system more polished. It's unclear how often Corbin will play his best lineups, and if any team is equipped to attack those units, it's the Spurs.