As the regular season comes to a close, the San Antonio Spurs are once again standing atop the Western Conference as the number one seed. Snagging the top seed for a second consecutive season is a dejected reminder of last season for the Spurs.
The Spurs finished 2011 with the best record, before being bounced out of the playoffs in five games by the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. A nightmare matchup that won’t be headed to San Antonio in round one this season.
This time it’s Utah. A regular season matchup the Spurs won 3 out of 4 times, the only win for Utah came on a night where Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili did not play.
Aside from an easy first round matchup, here are a few reasons why the Spurs can win it all.
They’re headed for the postseason for the 15th consecutive year, which is the league’s longest active streak. Posting an NBA best 28-5 home record contributes favorable conditions for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
San Antonio has also put together three 9 game winning streaks this season including the one they are currently taking into the postseason. Another NBA best.
They are absolutely rolling right now and are one of the only teams playing this well in the entire league. These are optimistic signs when considering their chances. Even still, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the media’s darlings to come out of the West.
Last season the Spurs were plagued with injuries. Ginobili broke his shooting arm days before round one began and the Spurs seemed out of sync. There was no answer for the bigs of Memphis and the bench, although good offensively, lacked the size to endure.
This year’s squad has changed from last season however and their health is no problem. San Antonio parted ways with retiring veteran Antonio Mcdyess and made way for Tiago Splitter and Dejuan Blair to take the helm.
Splitter has grown on both ends of the floor. The progression on defense is finally flowing through his veins and playing big against guys like Bynum and Gasol have proved that Tiago is ready to tackle any mismatches the Spurs face. A big change from the Splitter of last season.
One of the major surprises is the play of the bench and wingmen. The Spurs have eight players that average at least 8.9 points per game; The Big Three, Neal, Splitter, Blair, Green, Jackson.
That doesn’t include the intangibles of each that have been added to the team this season.
Neal enjoyed a great rookie campaign and has played great as well in this year for San Antonio as the back up point guard to Tony. He has really shown the resolve to take and make the big shots. He will thrive in the playoffs.
Coming off the bench for the first part of this season, Green was promoted to the starting lineup in February, playing alongside Tony Parker in the backcourt. Green has rapidly become a perimeter defender to reckon with and a major three-point threat.
The Spurs gave up a quality player in George Hill to acquire Kawhi Leonard. The former San Diego State star, hasn’t disappointed, putting together a fantastic rookie season defending some of the leagues best players including Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
For a rookie to guard each teams best player so well makes fans reminiscent of another lockdown Spurs defender, Mr. Bruce Bowen. Although its early to say exactly how Leonard will improve his potential is towering and he will be key for the Spurs’ run in the postseason.
San Antonio also added Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw in free agency. Both are a physical presence on defense and the glass. Quite possibly the best mid-season acquisitions in the NBA.
Even Bonner who continues to put 3-pointer’s in the bucket has appeared to focus more on the defensive side of the ball, showing much improvement.
Overall the depth of this team is incredible. Unlike any other in the game. So with the right side pieces in place the only other ingredient necessary is an effective nucleus in the Big Three.
Let’s begin with Duncan. The old man. The elder.
Last season I did a piece on Tim’s dwindling numbers. I watched as his body seemed to break down as the season progressed. But not this season.
Timmy’s “old” body is averaging 15 points and 9 boards per game. At 36 years old he has seemed to transcend time and age.
Duncan leads the Spurs in both rebounding and blocked shots, and is second on the team in scoring. What’s amazing is that while he is performing at such a high level he is dunking the ball, running the floor, and outplaying guys half his age.
A rejuvenated Duncan makes this team extremely dangerous.
Tony is having one of the best seasons of his 11-year career.
The 2007 NBA Finals MVP is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists per game, and was named a Western Conference All-Star for the fourth time.
I can’t explain what is going on with Parker. I’ve seen him take more All-Stars to school this season than ever. He is playing out of his mind and that is the perfect formula for a title run. I can’t remember the last time I heard Parker’s name in the MVP race, can you?
Nope, but he is and he is the flagship of the franchise right now.
The final piece of the puzzle is Manu Ginobili.
Most Spurs fans know Manu as the most creative player on the team. He has range, speed, agility, and can arguably take over any game. He is San Antonio’s Kobe. Maybe not as far as athletic ability or raw talent, but as a play maker he is indeed the go to guy.
Injuries have plagued Manu for much of the past few years but he is healthy now.
A healthy Manu, well that’s just scary.
Other than the Spur’s Big Three, there isn’t a lot of experience on the squad except for Stephen Jackson who was on the 2003 championship team and Matt Bonner who won in 2007.
It will be interesting to see how the younger guys handle the postseason especially when the bench begins to shrink if they go deeper.
The regular season is just that, the regular season. It doesn’t mean much once the Playoffs begin.
This year however, has played into the Spur’s hands so perfectly. They have been annihilating their opponents one after another in this condensed season. Gregg Popovich was forced to get creative with how to handle resting his players, which endured 66 games in 5 months, including occasional back to back to back games.
This team and it’s coach went toe to toe with the adversity of fatigue and age in the regular season.
And after pushing through the gauntlet remarkably unscathed, whether you think they will win or won’t even get close, Gregg Popovich has given the Spurs a legitimate chance at bringing a fifth title back to San Antonio.
I’m taking San Antonio over Utah 4-1 in round one.