Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, basketballschedule.net
Recently, NBA fans (San Antonio Spurs fans in particular) have gotten used to the Spurs dominating in the regular season and folding in the playoffs. It’s happened the last two years and all the Spurs want this year is for it to not happen again.
San Antonio doesn’t have a fountain of youth, but they do have a lot of talent.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli anchor a very talented Spurs team and while all three players are old, they are still performing. Duncan isn’t the same player he used to be, but he can still take most big men in the league without much problem.
Ginobili and Parker are also both great players, as Parker is just like most good point guards: he can shoot and go to the hoop, but also make great passes and run the offense. Ginobili is a great player and all of those guys fit in very well with San Antonio’s strategy of getting good shots.
Gregg Popovich is a great coach and he knows how to manage a team very well. He has a vision for the playoffs and he showed it when resting his core in a key early-season game against the Miami Heat. The decision resulted in a fine from the league office, but it still shows that he knows what he’s doing.
In the regular season, when the core is healthy and fresh, the Spurs are probably the league’s best team. However, they’ve been overpowered in the playoffs and while they’ve had their way with teams like the Utah Jazz (they swept Utah in the first round of last year’s playoffs), teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder have given them trouble. San Antonio won 10 games to start the playoffs last year, but they lost the last four and didn’t make the NBA Finals.
Younger players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook don’t lose any steps in the playoffs, even with the wear and tear of the 82-game season and the potential to go over 100 games total. Injuries haven’t plagued the Thunder, but they have hurt the Spurs, as Duncan and Ginobili both sat out San Antonio’s Friday night loss to the lowly Detroit Pistons with injuries.
The injuries are undoubtedly a concern for the Spurs, but not the biggest one. And that’s a very bad thing for the Spurs and their fans.
Age may not seem like a huge factor for the casual fan, who may bring up the fact that they are professional athletes and that they can handle anything. However, that’s not exactly true and when you’ve played in the league for 16 seasons (like Duncan) and are on the verge of playing 100 games, it’s hard to stay fresh.
We saw that with the Spurs in last year’s playoffs, because while they had momentum when at home, they lost it in Oklahoma City and got overpowered the rest of the way.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the Thunder will be deep into the playoffs and the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors are looking very good as well.
Chris Paul is a quick, young guard who can handle anyone on defense while running the offense very well on offense, and his partner in crime, Blake Griffin, isn’t too bad either. The Clippers can overmatch the Spurs in, say, the second round of the playoffs, if they can wear them out.
There are difficult teams in the Western Conference, which is a death trap for a lot of teams. The Spurs help make the West a death trap for bad teams and it won’t be hard for the Spurs to beat a team like Utah, the Portland Trail Blazers or Houston Rockets in the first round. They’ll have a small break before the first round and I think that will be enough for them to win the first round in a sweep or in five games.
However, the second round will be full of contenders. In my opinion, there are six teams with a chance of making the NBA Finals (some with better chances than others). Those teams are the Nuggets, the Spurs, the Clippers, the Grizzlies, the Thunder and the Warriors. While I don’t see the Warriors or Nuggets winning the West, they can surprise the Spurs in the second round.
Both teams are young, high-scoring and athletic. They can steal a game on the road by wearing out the Spurs and feed off of the energy at home to win the series, and while the Grizzlies have a different style (based on good defense), they can handle the Spurs as well. San Antonio averages 104.1 points per game as a team, fourth in the league. Memphis, however, allows an average of a mere 90 points, tied for the best in the league.
The Clippers and Thunder are the teams that the Spurs need to be most concerned about, though. The Clippers are in the top 10 with 99.9 points a game and they are also fourth in the league for allowing just 93.4 points a contest. Paul is a very good player who shines in big moments and I can see the Clippers wearing out the Spurs and beating them.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, wouldn’t exactly be an underdog. They dominated the Spurs the last time the teams met in December, riding 25 points and 17 rebounds from Serge Ibaka to a 107-93 win. Durant performed very well in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, averaging 29.5 points. He is more improved as a player this year, too, averaging more points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals than his career averages.
The Thunder have lots of talent, and I can see them doing the same thing this year that they did last year. Popovich is very good at managing a team, but I still think the age will bring the Spurs down. Right now, I do believe that they are the best team in the league. They might be the most talented team in the Western Conference, and every year, they are a contender.
However, this year, I don’t think they will be able to get to the Finals.
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