The top-seeded Spurs kick off their Western Conference quarterfinals series by entertaining the Utah Jazz in the Alamo City.
San Antonio surged to its second straight division title, winning the Southwest by a dominating margin over the Memphis Grizzlies. It's the 15th straight year in the playoffs for the Spurs under Gregg Popovich, the longest active streak in the NBA.
Utah, which didn't clinch a playoff spot until Tuesday night, has a big task ahead. The Jazz had lost six in a row to the Spurs until an April 9 victory. They also lost their last meeting against San Antonio in the playoffs, in five games during the Western Conference finals in 2007.
The Spurs' Tim Duncan has never missed out on the playoffs since the team drafted him back in 1997 and the big man has won four NBA titles since breaking into the league. However, San Antonio hopes to avoid last year's catastrophe when the Grizzlies sent the top-seeded Spurs packing in six games.
Pegged to not even make a dent in the Western Conference in 2011-12 because of age, the Spurs mirrored fine wine and rolled their way to the top of the conference, unseating the favored Oklahoma City Thunder.
San Antonio captured the top seed in the West for the seventh time in franchise history and the sixth time in the Duncan era. Since Duncan joined the Spurs they have posted nine division titles, the most in the NBA
A pair of 11-game winning streaks during the regular season from Jan. 30-Feb. 20 and March 21-April 8, and solid coaching as usual from Popovich also contributed to the team's success. Much of San Antonio's mojo came from playing in the Alamo City, where the Spurs went 28-5 to tie the Miami Heat for the best home mark.
Health has also been a huge factor for the Spurs, who did lose guard Manu Ginobili for some time early on but he's back at full strength.
"It's great to be in that situation, but as we showed last year, someone can sneak up and take you out easily," Duncan said of being healthy at the start of the postseason. "Hopefully we get a much better effort this year and do a much better job this year, and we stay away from those injuries."
The Spurs' three main pieces of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker will be relied on heavily, but they'll have some relief with help from Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Tiago Splitter.
Utah may seem overmatched in this first-round playoff series, but turned it on following the All-Star break to cinch up the eighth seed. The Jazz have one of the youngest rosters in the league and posted their fifth postseason berth in six years earlier this week and their first without long-time coach Jerry Sloan,
"We battled through everything. Nobody expected us to be where we're at, but we're there now," said Jazz forward Paul Millsap. "We worked hard for it. Hopefully, we're going to make some noise."
Tyrone Corbin is the first coach not named Sloan since Frank Layden back in the 1980s to pilot the Jazz into the playoffs. It certainly was no guarantee the Jazz would make the playoffs after struggling through the month of February, but contributions from Al Jefferson, Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris made the difference. Jefferson led the team in scoring and rebounding, while Harris finished with a team-high in assists.
Just like San Antonio, Utah finished in the top five in points per game. The Jazz lost three of four meetings with the Spurs in the regular season and are just 5-10 in the last 15 matchups in this series. Utah has lost 23 of its last 25 at San Antonio, so it's important to take care of business in Salt Lake City when the series shifts.
Overall these teams have met in the postseason four times with a John Stockton and Karl Malone led Jazz group taking the first three series in 1994, '96 and '98 before the Spurs broke through in the West finals in 2007.