NBA PM: San Antonio Spurs Ripe For Upset?
The San Antonio Spurs have been the best team in the NBA’s Western Conference for the past two seasons, and they are on pace to hold that distinction this season, as well. The Spurs went 61-21 in 2010-11, four games better than the second-best team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year, when a lock-out cut the season down to 66 games, the Spurs went 50-16, three games better than the second-best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So far this season the Spurs have again been the best in the West, and even playing stretches of games without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and now Tony Parker they have compiled a 49-16 record. That’s even more impressive when you consider that at least two of their losses have come as the result of head coach Gregg Popovich resting primary players, as he did in the team’s famous (and costly) loss in Miami and more recently in their loss to Minnesota. When healthy and at full strength, the Spurs have been all but unstoppable.
Why, then, are most NBA observers already talking about a Thunder/HEAT NBA Finals rematch?
Simply put, it’s because we’ve seen this play out before. The 61-21 Spurs lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, due in large part to the wear and tear the 82-game season took on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The 50-16 Spurs lost to the younger and more energized Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. The aging Spurs just didn’t seem to have what it took to get all the way to the NBA Finals any more.
After each of these postseason collapses, pundits across the country were just sure the Spurs were finished. Duncan would retire, Ginobili would be traded, and the Spurs would rebuild around the emerging Parker. Each time, however, the Spurs added just a little more depth and came back ready to do battle with the same core group in place. As we’ve seen, the Big Three may be older, but they can still get it done. Does that mean the team will fare better this postseason, with one more year on the Duncan and Ginobili conspiring to bring them down prematurely?
No, this time around the Spurs are showing signs of being able to sustain a high level of play deep into the playoffs – perhaps even all the way to the NBA Finals.
More than ever, this Spurs team has been tried and tested during the regular season. While most teams tend to suffer setbacks and at least minor losing streaks when All-Star starters miss games, the Spurs have finally reached a point where no injury is too big to derail them. The additions of Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw have helped, but even more significant has been the play of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, the trio of younger players around whom the Spurs are expected to rebuild. Even players like Gary Neal and Cory Joseph have stepped up their games when their numbers have been called, which bodes well for the Spurs heading down the stretch. When an ankle injury claimed Parker for up to four weeks, the Spurs responded to predictions of their doom by blowing out the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
This Spurs team has been tested more than ever, and yet they are still sitting atop the Western Conference.
As it turns out, the Spurs were rebuilding after all, they were just doing it without putting Duncan and Ginobili out to pasture. The Spurs kept their older dynamic duo around to lead by example and instill the principles that Gregg Popovich spent so much time and energy instilling in them. Splitter, for example, may never be a perennial All-Star and Hall-of-Famer, but combined with the rest of San Antonio’s young core he might just be good enough to keep the Spurs among the league’s elite for years to come. After all, the Spurs are there now and Duncan is averaging just 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds. This season Splitter has started 43 games and is averaging 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field. How much of a leap is it to say Splitter could average five more points with a few more touches?
The Spurs may have actually completely much of their rebuilding project as critics called for them to rebuild.
But what about this season? Can the Spurs realistically hope to get Duncan one more ring before he retires? Aren’t the ripe to be upset by a hungry Lakers team that may have just barely snuck into the playoffs? Even if they don’t, the Grizzlies are even better now, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the deepest and more talented teams in the league, and then there’s the Thunder. The Western Conference is going to dare the older Spurs to turn back the clock one more time.
The fact is, the Spurs have as good a shot at winning the championship as any Western team, and probably a better one. Their depth, the marked improvement of their younger core, and the guidance of the best coach in the modern NBA will all give the Spurs an edge that their opponents will struggle to counter. If the Big Three are healthy, which is always a big “if,” the Spurs might just blow through the first two rounds. The difference between this year’s team and last year’s, however, is that this year’s squad has the ability to step in and keep winning in the event of a significant injury.
Age won’t stop the Spurs this season, and age was the only thing holding them back over the last two.
Up Close: Tony Allen
With the playoffs right around the corner, one of the biggest questions in the Western Conference is how good the Memphis Grizzlies will be after the major changes made by their new front office midseason. HOOPSWORLD recently caught up with Grizzlies veteran shooting guard Tony Allen to get his take on that and more.br> br>
Why Kevin Garnett Wouldn’t Accept A Trade
As the NBA trade deadline neared last month there were some bizarre rumors buzzing around, though perhaps none more bizarre than those involving Boston Celtics big man Kevin Garnett. What some seemed to overlook for a time was the fact that Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract that would prevent him being traded without his consent. Garnett made it crystal clear in talking to reporters at the All-Star Game in Houston that he was not going to waive his no-trade clause and he was going to retire a Boston Celtic.
A big part of the reason for that sentiment, apart from the normal hassle of moving your life across the country, was his lifelong friendship with teammate Paul Pierce. Garnett recently opened up about just how much his friendship with Pierce means to him in an interview with WEEI in Boston.
“Paul and I have history, and it’s only right that we come in here and we make history together,” said Garnett. “At 13, 14, we were tearing up his mom’s living room, breaking vases, almost getting our asses whooped. I was with Paul the first time I ever experienced Crenshaw on a Sunday. For y’all who don’t know about Crenshaw on a Sunday, Crenshaw on a Sunday is a big deal. He was taking me out, and we were being 15, 16 years old.”
The fact that Garnett ultimately wound up in Boston playing alongside Pierce was the culmination of a lifelong dream, not unlike the way Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, best friends from their days together at the University of Houston, were reunited in Houston and were able to win a championship together as members of the 1995 Houston Rockets.
“Being able to follow our dream at McDonald’s, having some duration together, trying to go to the same school, obviously going different paths, and then finally meeting up here in Boston, winning the championship, doing the things we’ve been doing since we’ve been here — 20,000 points. Now we’re surpassing people that we grew up mimicking and obviously idolizing — it’s special,” said Garnett. “It’s special to do with a personal friend. You know what I mean? Not just a teammate, but a real friend. Someone who knows you, knows your family, knows who you are, where you come from and vice versa .. knows the things that motivate you and push you.
“I always tell people that I’ve got the greatest seat in the house to watch one of the best players in NBA history put the ball in the basket every night, and it’s special to be able to do it with him.”
For his part, Pierce has no shortage of admiration or respect for his friend and colleague.
“Kevin could accomplish anything that he wanted to do, because he has that will, that determination,” said Pierce. “For him to be where he is at, it’s pretty remarkable, because he’s more than just scoring. He’s at the top in so many other categories that it’s just unbelievable. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of player. Not a lot of people get a chance to play with those type of players, and I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to play with him these last five, six years. It’s been an honor to watch him each and every day, how he prepares, how he comes to work every day, his approach is something we can all learn from.”
Small wonder Garnett was so unwilling to even entertain the idea of being traded. Playing alongside Pierce is the realization of a dream they have both had since their early teens.
Check out the rest of Garnett’s interview, in which he also talks about what it means to pass so many all-time greats in various career categories, by clicking here!
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