The San Antonio Spurs are heading into the postseason on a high note, winning their last 10 games, and looked poised to have a deep playoff run this year.
With the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healthy, claiming San Antonio's fifth NBA title doesn't seem far-fetched. The Spurs have already won four championships during the Duncan-era, and with a deep roster this season, this appears to be their best shot.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The Spurs' last title was in 2007, and they have only won a single playoff series in the past three seasons. Add the fact that two of their starters are relatively inexperienced in the postseason, then there could be a cause for concern.
Coach Gregg Popovich wonders how his team will react to postseason pressure.
"We start Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard the entire year," Popovich said. "And if they start in the playoffs, will they be the same players they've been all year, or will that heightened intensity change them to some degree? I don't know. You just don't know."
However, last year's early playoff exit against the Memphis Grizzlies, should serve as a remainder, and motivate the Spurs to get back on top.
Meanwhile, they will face a young team that used their toughness and tenacity to snatch the eight seed in the West. After a slow season start, the Utah Jazz are in the playoffs just one year after trading Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets.
The Jazz should likewise be motivated in this series with the Spurs after they felt disrespected when San Antonio opt to rest their stars, in their final regular season meeting.
Also, the imposing front court of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors could cause the Spurs some matchup problems, which makes this series more interesting.
Nonetheless, this series is the Spurs' to lose, and Parker is the main key.
The Spurs' French point guard has averaged 21.7 points in three games against Utah, if he can continue attacking the basket and dominate Devin Harris the way he did in the regular season, this playoff opener could be a short one.
Another advantage the Spurs have is their outside shooting and depth.
Entering the playoffs, San Antonio is the league-best in 3-point percentage, while the Jazz are third-worst in the NBA.
The Spurs have eight players averaging nine points or better, and in the three games the Spurs won against the Jazz this season, their reserves were plus-58, while the Jazz's reserves were minus-90.
It will be interesting to see if Popovich will use a shortened rotation in the postseason, or will he stick to the tactic that has been successful all season.
San Antonio has the clear edge in this series, but Utah won't go away that easily. Call it 4-2 Spurs.
(Photo by D.Clarke Evans/NBAE)