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.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:22 PM EDT
CSKA-Moscow wants to poach Scott from Atlanta Hawks
Jul 29, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Johnson gets NBA contract after eventful summer league
Jul 29, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
I’m not sure Love is taking advice from Minnesota right now
Jul 29, 2014, 4:11 PM EDT
Lakers introduce Scott as new coach in press conference
Jul 29, 2014, 3:24 PM EDT
Rose said he was disappointed but he understands ‘Melo’s decision.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Want to see LeBron strip down to his underwear?
Jul 29, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT
Lakers guard confirms he’s planning on retirement
Jul 29, 2014, 1:11 PM EDT
Donald Sterling isn’t going away, but he’s pretty much done as the Clippers owner now.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
Yes, you read that headline correctly
Jul 29, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT
The question with Cousins is never talent, but his maturity seems to be there.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Jason Kidd or Byron Scott could hire former Seattle SuperSonic
Jul 29, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
Irving wouldn’t get full 30 percent of adjusted salary cap by triggering Derrick Rose rule
Jul 29, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Atlanta selected 7-foot-3 center No. 43 in 2014 NBA draft
Jul 29, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Previous report said Griffin fractured back during Clippers’ playoff run, which ended before backflip video was posted
Jul 29, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Thunder forward says he’s improving, but ‘it’s going to take time’
Jul 29, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Former 76ers and Nets general manager now Memphis’ executive vice president of player personnel
Jul 29, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Charles Barkley is a generous man.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:32 AM EDT
It wasn’t pretty getting there, but the union has a leader again.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:30 AM EDT
It’s been a good summer to be Kyrie Irving. Really good.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Clippers big man reportedly suffered injury during playoffs
- Byron Scott makes ridiculous optimism sound reasonable 26
- Derrick Rose told Carmelo Anthony that if he came to Chicago “the game would be easy” 30
- LeBron James strips on stage, throws clothes into crowd (video) 18
- Is DeMarcus Cousins the big man Team USA can lean on? 14
- Lakers make it official — finally — and hire Byron Scott as head coach 13
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 29
- Shelly Sterling beats Donald Sterling in court, clears sale of Clippers to Steve Ballmer 69
- Report: Timberwolves have talked to Sixers about Thaddeus Young as Kevin Love replacement 26