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.
Apr 21, 2014, 3:49 AM EDT
Houston point guard to have MRI Monday
Apr 21, 2014, 2:32 AM EDT
Aldridge set a Blazers record with 46 points in a playoff game. Nene reminded everyone why he
Apr 21, 2014, 2:29 AM EDT
Aldridge scores 46 points, grabs 18 rebounds to lead comeback
Apr 20, 2014, 10:02 PM EDT
Nene gets his first start since February and the Wizards steal Game 1.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Kemba Walker made James Jones look bad.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
Bobcats were scrappy, but with Al Jefferson hurting Miami just had too much LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Touching moment as Gregg Popovich delivers a heartfelt message.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Spurs close the game on a 19-4 run after trailing by double digits.
Apr 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Statement confirms referees handled replay review correctly, but also admits that they missed the initial foul call on a critical possession.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
If Jim Buss fails to deliver in quickly rebuilding the Lakers, he says he’ll resign.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Roy Hibbert owned up to a poor Game 1. Will he do anything about it in Game 2 is the question.
Apr 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Shot clocks stopped working midway through the third quarter, but Raptors say all will be well in time for Game 2.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Where you going, Evan?
Apr 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“That’s what I do!”
Apr 20, 2014, 12:44 AM EDT
OKC led by as many as 25 points in the first half.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT
Roy Hibbert wasn’t good in Game 1 against the Hawks, and this play epitomized his performance.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT
The eight-seed Hawks blowout the Pacers in Game 1.
Apr 19, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Blake Griffin totally did this on purpose.
Apr 19, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Warriors steal Game 1 in Los Angeles.
Apr 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
It looked good as soon as it left his hands.
- Sunday NBA grades: Nene, Aldridge lead day where big men shine 0
- LaMarcus Aldridge’s Trail Blazers claw back for Game 1 win over Houston Rockets 3
- Bulls have no answer for Nene as Wizards take Game 1 12
- Charlotte is scrappy but Heat have too much in comfortable 99-88 win 18
- Spurs use huge 4th quarter run to come back and win Game 1 vs. Mavericks 8