Before I begin, let me just warn you that I won’t be mentioning Jeremy Lin in this blog (awe, shoot).
No, this one is focused on an old, boring, crusty old topic…..the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich’s crew just finished their annual Rodeo Trip with a glistening 8-1 record, the only loss coming when ‘Pop’ decided to rest everyone at Portland…I even heard that Bruce Bowen took the night off at ESPN just to show solidarity.
As we pause for the All-Star break, the Spurs are seeded 2nd overall in Western Conference at 24-10. They did this despite playing without their emotional leader and arguably most talented player, Manu Ginobili. He missed six weeks with a broken hand then went out again recently with a strained oblique.
As a result, Tony Parker represents the team in the All-Star Game and Tim Duncan will be featured in the legends game. Seriously, despite not putting up All-Star numbers, Timmy has been solid for this team…as has been rookie Kawhi Leonard, veteran Richard Jefferson, and bruiser DaJuan Blair.
But when I flip over to the black n silver on League Pass I can’t help but get a feeling of deja vu. Isn’t this pretty much the same team that rolled through the west last season only to get rolled in the 1st round by the Memphis Grizzlies?
So what’s changed? The answer is nothing.
Some bald guys on TNT insist on telling you that last year was a fluke and that they just ran into a “bad matchup” in the playoffs. They also might point out that the Spurs have always responded the year after a disappointing run…going deep in the playoffs. Sorry, but I’m going to need more than that guys.
Truth is, this Spurs team is just like last year’s…only that Parker is the star and Ginobili isn’t. They have the same weaknesses that can be exploited in a seven-game series. While they’re more athletic on the perimeter with Leonard and Danny Green, the Spur frontline is still a group of stiffs. Blair is a freak physically, but he along with Duncan, Bonner, and Splitter just don’t get it done in today’s acrobatic NBA paint.
Speaking of Tiago Splitter, what’s the big deal? All I see when he’s in the game is a tall guy who’s slow and doesn’t make an impact. I don’t know how he snuck into the Rising Stars game this weekend ahead of Derrick Favors (who luckily got in as a late add). Just because the guy is from South America and has a decent left hand, we’re anointing him as a promising bigman? If Antonio McDyess hadn’t retired, he’d be taking all of Splitter’s minutes this year.
So how has San Antonio managed to rack up all these wins then? it can’t all be a fluke. Well, they are the best team in the league at executing their game plan. On offense they run every play through to the end, going to options C, D, & E when most teams just stop at A and then run a pick n’ roll for the rest of the possession.
Half of their wins have come against young teams that are flying through a crammed schedule with their eyes wide shut. The other half have come against contending teams that are trying to fit new players or a new system in (picture the Lakers and Mavericks). The Spurs don’t have this problem, they know who they are and what they’re running…..to them the regular season is a much easier trek.
But, see, while that is a great thing to have in the regular season it doesn’t really set them apart in the postseason. Everyone executes in the playoffs. Coaches have days off between series and games to hammer in all the execution points they need to. By games 4-7 of a series the other team knows what plays you’re calling out before you do. The execution that sets San Antonio apart becomes commonplace and then they’re just left with age and bad matchups.
I did a quick scan recently of the team’s at the bottom of the playoff picture that may be this year’s Memphis Grizzlies and send Coach Popovich into an early summer. I can see both the Portland Trailblazers (if they don’t creep back up the standings) or the Denver Nuggets (if they ever get healthy) as two teams who could easily take the Spurs out in the 1st round. Let alone if a team like the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks falls back down in the standings, it may be a brief playoff appearance for Duncan n crew.
No matter how you look at it, it’s a serious possibility. There is nothing separating the San Antonio Spurs from the other teams out west. It’s just that in a hectic 66-game schedule, execution is a big plus. It’s what gets them wins while other teams fiddle about on back-to-back nights. But in the playoffs, the games slow down with days off in between contests. This team’s main advantage (preparation) will be gone…and so too will be their title hopes.
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