The San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies don't have time to worry about the challenge that lies on the horizon. That's probably just as well, since the opportunity to lose to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals is hardly a just reward for fighting through a tough, physical Western Conference Finals.
But just how predetermined is the outcome of the 2013 NBA Finals?
No, that's not a rally call for the conspiracy theorists to start presenting their evidence of a Miami-biased basketball landscape. Rather it's a serious examination of the West's finest chances to unseat the defending champs, to tally four wins over a seven-game stretch against a team that hasn't suffered four defeats in nearly four months.
Since the Spurs enjoy a 2-0 series lead, they'll be the first team placed on the chopping block.
Gregg Popovich's plug-and-play group is the antithesis of Erik Spoelstra's All-Star-laden roster, but there are some notable similarities between the two franchises.
Both have the ability to lace up a number of different kicks, overwhelming their opposition with a perimeter-based offensive barrage or scratching out success in a slow-paced defensive test of wills. Pop and Spo have a horde of marksmen flanking multiple ball-handlers capable of carving up defenders with point-producing penetrations.
Each team employs a postseason rotation at least nine players deep, and both have the depth to extend their reserve units even further. Both offenses are built around their respective stars with a perfectly complemented supporting cast ready to help carry the load.
But make no mistake; these are not identical twins.
Miami has a decisive edge in athleticism but can't match San Antonio's size on the interior.
Any strong Spurs series starts with a dominant effort from Tony Parker, and bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to the Alamo City would require nothing less. He'll have his hands full trying to get past Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and could see either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James standing in his path at times.
But Tim Duncan's already salivating over some less-than-intimidating matchups with Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen, and the 37-year-old has enough in his veteran bag of tricks to carry the offensive load for prolonged stretches.
Of course, Miami has a countermove to toss at Duncan. A few of them, actually. The best chance for success against the four-time NBA champion involves pulling him away from the basket and using the gripping hands of Father Time against him.
Bosh's shooting range extends out to the three-point line, where he's made 7-of-16 in the postseason, meaning Duncan can't clog the middle when he's assigned to Miami's starting center.
Depending on Spoelstra's next chess move, he could task Duncan with stopping Shane Battier (a career 38.7 percent shooter from deep) or even Rashard Lewis (career 38.8 percent). And Duncan can ill-afford to lose sight of a streaking Andersen, whose off-ball movement has made him a perfect fit for Miami's frontcourt.
As for the Grizzlies, any chance of stealing a potential series with the Heat involves avoiding those sustained scoring runs that Miami seems to keep in its back pocket.
It's a far easier task to discuss than actually accomplish for sure, but there are certain Memphis strengths to help them do just that.
While the Grizzlies might not always look like they know what they're doing on the offensive end, they rarely shoot themselves in the foot there. Their 10.6 turnovers per game are the fewest in this postseason (the Spurs have the second-fewest with 11.3), and they finished the regular season with the fourth-lowest turnover average in the league at 13.2 (via ESPN.com).
Memphis' methodical, interior-focused system also helps it keep the pace at a manageable rate. Zach Randolph handles the post scoring duties (18.0 points per game in the playoffs), while Marc Gasol transitions between a scorer (17.5) and creator (2.9 assists a night in the postseason, 4.0 during the regular season).
Controlling the tempo is key for any team facing Miami, but it becomes an even greater concern for Memphis considering Lionel Hollins' playoff rotation has largely featured only seven players.
Mike Conley has had his coming-out party on basketball's biggest stage this year (17.4 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds in the postseason), but he would need to be even better to bring some championship bling to Bluff City.
The Grizzlies don't have a defensive liability among their starting five, but neither Randolph nor Gasol is particularly comfortable defending away from the basket. Memphis has struggled to keep San Antonio's shooters in check, and Miami has even more perimeter threats and dangerous slashers to account for.
And if one of those scoring runs does make an appearance, the Grizzlies don't have the athletes or the snipers to score in spurts.
Points are always at a premium for Hollins' grit-and-grind group, so its margin for error would be incredibly thin.
Obviously these potential series are the furthest thing from San Antonio and Memphis' minds at this point. And Miami has its own challenge to deal with first in the form of the Indiana Pacers.
But that won't stop any of these clubs from having some video staffers start building the scouting reel for next round. Championship desires have taken these teams this far already, and it's never too early to start planning ahead.
With that in mind, I have to give the Spurs an edge over the Grizzlies in their bid to dethrone the reigning kings. San Antonio was the superior team during the regular season, and the gap between the two clubs has only widened in the Western Conference Finals even with the Spurs' unsightly fourth-quarter performance in Game 2.
Of course, you could offer me the field or Miami and I'm bashing all piggy banks in sight and rolling with the South Beach All-Stars.
So take it one step at a time, Spurs and Grizzlies' fans. You might not like where this staircase is headed.
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