Apr 26, 2012, 6:40 PM EDT
Last season, the Spurs won 61 games, went into the playoffs as the top seed thought of as contenders, then got unceremoniously bounced in the first round because they could not handle the big, athletic front line of the Memphis Grizzlies.
This season, the Spurs are again entering the playoffs as the top seed and are talked about as contenders. They again face a first-round opponent with a big front line — the Utah Jazz — and some think the same thing will happen again.
The Spurs may not make the NBA finals, but they are real contenders this year. Here are five reasons this year is different than last.
1) Manu Ginobili is healthy. Ginobili is what turns the Spurs offense from “good” to “best in the NBA” and he was out last season but is back healthy this season. (The entire city of San Antonio just knocked on wood.) What makes him so dangerous is that can take whatever the defense gives — he can knock down threes, drive the lane (left or right), is solid from the midrange, plays well in transition and… you get the point. He also shoots well in the clutch. This is the guy that makes the Spurs special and he is back this year.
2) Tony Parker is playing the best ball of his career. He should be in the MVP discussion this year. Not saying he should win it (that’s LeBron James) but Parker should be in the conversation. Parker leads the Spurs in scoring (18.3 points per game, a number he stepped up when Ginobili was out) and is also at a career high in assists — when he is on the floor he assists on 40 percent of his teammates baskets. Parker gets an offense based on cuts and off-ball movement going, he is at the heart of their rapid ball movement side to side. He simply is better this season than last.
3) San Antonio depth and athleticism — this is a team. This was the knock on them since 2004 — they were old and no longer athletic enough to play with the elite teams in the league. But that’s not the case anymore, they have rookie Kawhi Leonard, they bring in youth with DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Gary Neal, plus Tiago Splitter has taken a step forward and given them a solid big man to put in the middle. Combine that with a shooter like Matt Bonner (plus they have Stephen Jackson now) and they can throw a lot of different matchups at you. The amazing part is how little drop off there is in execution from the first to second unit.
The turning point for the Spurs may have come at the end of January this season when the starters were getting smoked by Dallas and when the bench made a comeback Popovich rode them all the way through into the overtime. And lost. But since then this team has rallied as a unit and the depth has been part of that.
4) Tim Duncan found the fountain of youth down by the Riverwalk. Tim Duncan never has been bad, but he had seemed to take a step back in recent years from great to solid. He was always fundamentally sound, but he seemed older and a step slow. Since the All-Star break he has seemed a threat again. Maybe that is him getting better looks thanks to the Spurs fantastic ball movement, but whatever it is it is working. And if Duncan is on the Spurs are on.
5) These Jazz are not those Grizzlies. This Utah team is playing well and we’ve all fallen in love around the NBA blogosphere with their big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors together. No doubt, that lineup is good — but it is not as good as the level the Grizzlies were playing at last year. Zach Randolph was probably the best single player in the first round last year, he was a force of nature. I like Jefferson, but his ceiling is not that high. These Jazz also don’t defend like those Grizzlies did.
It is possible the Spurs will see the Grizzlies again in the second round. And that would be a fun matchup. But the Grizzlies are going to find out these Spurs are a lot better now than those ones they knocked off last year. These Spurs are legitimate contenders.
May 26, 2015, 9:42 AM EDT
Not the most reliable report. Not the least reliable report.
May 26, 2015, 9:07 AM EDT
Referee falls during Rockets-Warriors
May 26, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
That’s three out of four games this series Harden has been fantastic.
May 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Based on that Al Horford precedent, Dwight Howard should have gotten a Flagrant 2 and ejected.
May 26, 2015, 2:29 AM EDT
In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent).
May 25, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT
MVP runner-up shines while MVP misses substantial portion of Houston’s Game 4 win
May 25, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
He was not ejected.
May 25, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
It’s a sign Thomas may be around for a little bit.
May 25, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
It didn’t count.
May 25, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
Scary moment in Houston.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
What do they know?
May 25, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
The league had been exploring moving Game 1 up to June 2.
May 25, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Horford was ejected from Game 3.
May 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers star says he will research case further before saying more
May 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT
Doc Rivers decided to offer his mid-level exception money last summer to Spencer Hawes instead of Pierce. He’d like that one over.
May 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Expect a resilient Rockets team on Monday night.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers center shakes it off
May 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
It probably won’t happen, but…
May 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Cavaliers guard disagrees
May 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists .
- Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day 5
- Rockets show it’s better to have James Harden than to not have Stephen Curry 5
- Stephen Curry leaves game after taking a hard fall, cleared to return (VIDEO) 7
- Rumor: Paul Pierce might opt out of contract with Wizards, join Clippers 18
- Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston 9
- LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks 30
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 3 for Cavaliers with knee tendonitis 3
- Lil B says James Harden is officially under the Based God’s curse 31