Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Who wins more playoff games next season: the Spurs or Rockets?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sticking with the Spurs for now. Their championship window might be closing — how long have we been saying that? — and the Rockets’ might be opening, but the former’s still bigger for the spring of 2014, in my view. I assume Gregg Popovich already has drawn up a dozen or so things he wants his guys to do against Dwight Howard in Houston garb. I worry a little about the shell-shock of Game 6 and The Finals That Got Away, but it also gives San Antonio something fresh for motivation. Kind of like a boxer tasting his own blood and the rush that can come from that. The Rockets? Their days will come.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Rockets could jump into the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a deep playoff run. That won’t happen until Dwight Howard makes a real commitment to being a serious competitor. You can keep thinking the Spurs’ time as a contender is over at your own peril. While Manu Ginobili is showing wear and tear with his age, Kawhi Leonard has much more upside. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are still the heart and soul and the free-agent signings of Jeff Pendergraph and Marco Belinelli add depth. The Rockets are hopeful. The Spurs are still very much for real.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Now this is a good one. Can I call it a toss-up? Had the Spurs not pulled out that Game 1 thriller against Golden State in the West semifinals, they might have been out on their rears and all of us would be picking the James Harden–Dwight Howard Rockets as a no-brainer over the forever-aging Spurs. Instead, the Spurs made it back to The Finals and came within 28 seconds of knocking off the Heat in Game 6. So what does it all mean? I have no idea. Plenty of skeptics will follow Howard until he proves he’s a serious leader of men, even with a smile on his face, which I think he will do during this first decision-less season in a couple years. I’ll take the Rockets.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs. I think the Rockets will become a greater factor in the West, after a first-round elimination this year, but I have decided to be a year late on burying the Spurs since everyone else annually decides to be a year early. Besides, the Spurs will be good.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: San Antonio. The Spurs will likely have the more consistent offense and already have a great defense, having allowed the third-fewest points per 100 possessions last season. The Rockets can get there, but it will take more than the addition of Dwight Howard, because they already had a great defensive center with Omer Asik. For the Rockets to improve 10 or more spots from 17th in defensive efficiency, they will need improvement on the perimeter.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. At first blush, the Spurs would seem like the ideal pick. They were 30 seconds away from dethroning the Miami Heat and taking Larry O’Brien back to San Antonio. With the cast coming back mostly intact, there is no reason to believe the Spurs will take a step back in the Western Conference playoffs next season. Sure, the Rockets have the summer buzz, courtesy of their successful courtship of Dwight Howard. But until I see the new-look Rockets in the flesh, until I see Howard and James Harden figure out the nuances of leading a young crew through some of the trials and tribulations that are sure to come, I’m sticking with my gut instinct. The Spurs win more playoff games next season … the Rockets’ time will come later.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Spurs. I think Houston will be pretty good and will probably finish in the top half of the Western Conference, but I learned many years ago to never bet against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are the Jason Vorhees of the Western Conference — every time you think they’re out, they return and just keep coming after you.