Oct 21, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last season: The Spurs finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, and blew through the playoffs with a 12-2 record (including sweeps against the Lakers in the first round and the Grizzlies in the Conference Finals) before facing the Heat in the NBA Finals.
The series was one for the ages, with both teams playing at an extremely high level for all seven games. San Antonio was poised to win the title in Game 6, when the team held a five-point lead with 28 seconds to play and the league was preparing for their trophy presentation by lining the court with the now-infamous yellow ropes.
We all remember how things finished — Ray Allen hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history to send that game into overtime, and though the Spurs were able to bounce back and compete in Game 7, the Heat ultimately pulled away to become last season’s champions.
Signature highlight from last season: The Spurs wouldn’t have been in position to have a shot at winning the title without this incredibly tough shot from Tony Parker that sealed the team’s Game 1 victory in Miami. Seriously, this was ridiculous.
Key player changes: This is the Spurs we’re talking about, so for a franchise that’s all about longevity and consistency, there wouldn’t be any wholesale roster changes while the team’s best players are still capable of being among the league’s best.
- IN: Marco Belinelli (most recently of the Bulls) was signed to a two-year deal in free agency, as was Jeff
PendergraphAyres after playing the last two seasons for the Pacers.
- OUT: Gary Neal signed with the Bucks after the Spurs rescinded their qualifying offer which would have given them the right to match any offer he received in free agency. DeJuan Blair was out of the Spurs rotation by the end of the season, and signed a one-year deal with the Mavericks. Tracy McGrady, who joined the team late in the year but played no significant role, announced his retirement this summer.
Keys to the Spurs season:
1) Moving past the devastating Finals loss: The first priority for the Spurs as a team is to get over the painful memory of coming so close to an NBA title before ultimately falling short. In the preseason, the team has showed anything but a resiliency and a readiness for the upcoming season.
A preseason return to the scene of the crime against a Heat team playing without LeBron James, and with the Spurs playing their starters regular first half minutes saw them give up 66 points over the first two periods while falling behind by as many as 16 points before halftime.
Add to that Gregg Popovich still talking about how he thinks about the Finals loss every day and still dreams about LeBron and Ray Allen hitting shots, and you have a team-wide mental block that needs to be cleared before San Antonio is ready to focus on the task at hand this season.
2) The development of Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi Leonard is just entering his third NBA season, but all indications are that he’s poised to make the leap to becoming the Spurs’ next star. He has an above-average skill set on both ends of the floor, and fits perfectly into the Tim Duncan mold of being a boring, selfless superstar concerned only with winning from a personality standpoint.
Leonard appeared in just 58 games last season due to dealing with minor injuries, and averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in 31.2 minutes per contest. His production increased substantially during the postseason, however, when the averages were 13.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in 36.9 minutes per game, while increasing his field goal percentage from 49.4 to 54.5 percent.
The Spurs will need the more durable version of Leonard they saw in the playoffs, along with an even higher level of production from him in order to preserve the more aging stars during the long grind of the regular season.
3) Can the Spurs’ veterans keep it together one more time: That’s the question we’ve seemingly been asking ourselves every season for the past several years. The Spurs are old, deteriorating, and are no longer capable of keeping up with the game’s younger, more athletic teams — so the story goes. But ask the Miami Heat about that, who were moments away from losing the title to these San Antonio veterans.
That will be what we look for entering this season once more, with players like Duncan and Ginobili needing regular season relief from some of the other players on the roster in order to be healthy enough for a strong run into the postseason. Guys like Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, and Leonard will need to play well enough to keep the team winning while covering for the Spurs’ stars on nights off or extended periods of rest.
Why you should watch: The Spurs haven’t been “boring” for a few seasons now, and offensively, they’re usually quite the opposite. San Antonio was seventh in the league in offensive efficiency and played at the league’s sixth fastest pace a season ago, and with Tony Parker at the helm and Tim Duncan still working wonders in the post, this team can at times be — dare I say it — a joy to watch.
Prediction: A top-four seed in the West, and a potentially deep postseason run. The Spurs are one of those teams that the longer they are allowed to stay in the playoffs, the more difficult they are to beat. If they’re as close to 100 percent as a team as is reasonable by the end of the season, there’s no reason they shouldn’t challenge for the Western Conference crown for a second straight season.
The struggle for San Antonio will be remaining engaged over the long regular season grind just to get back to having that chance.
Apr 25, 2014, 12:16 AM EDT
Memphis leads the series 2-1 and have game 4 in their place Saturday.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
Roy Hibbert is benched in the fourth quarter as Atlanta gets the job done once again.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
When this goes in you know its your night.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
It’s real, and it’s spectacular.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Westbrook’s level of annoyance is impressive.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
This is just interesting to watch.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
Sorry KD, but through two games Allen has been the MVP of this series.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
No suspension for McRoberts. Somehow.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Jabari Parker says he passed more than Carmelo because he had a better team to pass to.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
He wants Steph Curry money, but he’ll likely get more like $7 million a year.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Gasol basically wants D’Antoni gone, but even then he likely moves on.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
Oscar Robertson thinks ‘Melo should get out of Dodge (and go to Houston).
Apr 24, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Kevin Pritchard tweets message from Pacers president
Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Less-heralded Damien Inglis declares, too
Apr 24, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
He will not be getting a baseball contract soon.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
Dwyane Wade does writeup on Serena Williams
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
Harden is frustrated. He should be, shooting under 30 percent for two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Grizzlies guard gets Joe Dumars Trophy over Jeff Green, Channing Frye, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Mike Dunleavy
Apr 24, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT
Trail Blazers forward is averaging 44.5 points trhough two games
- Memphis’ defense, discipline propel them past Thunder in overtime lead series 2-1 0
- Hawks take a 2-1 series lead over top-seeded Pacers 13
- Josh McRoberts fined $20,000 for forearm foul to LeBron’s throat 44
- Oscar Robertson says if he were Carmelo Anthony “I would leave today” 49
- Larry Bird, through Pacers general manager, says Frank Vogel’s job is safe 11