San Antonio Owns the West; Stay Tuned As They Prove It
In some quarters, current belief is the NBA's two best teams in the West are San Antonio and ...
If so, the Spurs gave a strong indication this week that there's a huge gap between them. It sent a message that when the Western Conference finals come into view, one team you'll be seeing resides deep in the heart of Texas.
The Clip Joint may have a 10-deep bench, but most of them are guards who feature an outside game. If they can get into an up-and-down-the-court mode, they can beat anyone on a given night. But slow it down like the Spurs did on Thu 21 Feb and they have no answer.
An inside presence will never go out of style, and San Antonio is second to none in that department. Tim Duncan is as good as it gets; even Boris Diaw makes himself known down there. Let them push their way into the blocks, and they'll get a shot they like or quickly find the open man when a double team comes into play.
As for the shooters, the Spurs are loaded with players who can knock it down. In recent years, it was up to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Duncan to do the heavy lifting. But this season, the additions of Danny Green, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Lenard -- feel free to stop me at any moment -- are there to feel it when needed. One or two might have a rough night, but the odds of that depth are that all of them won't.
Coach Greg Popovich has somehow always managed to avoid the common NBA malaise of 'face time' hoops. Selflessness and a strong passing game have always exemplified the Spurs, and they've even taken that approach to new levels this season. It bodes well when the mentality of playoff basketball separates the wheat from the chaff.
The Clippers and the Thunder are great run-and-gun teams. When they force turnovers, they convert in a hurry. Chances are they'll score before the shot clock barely gets started. But the Spurs are built for the playoffs, when the game slows down and each possession matters. That's where the Clippers have issues. They can't slow it down, and because of that they'll get picked apart by the Spurs if they meet in the post-season.
James Harden was the key to Oklahoma City's playoff success last season, but he's not there anymore. Harden killed the Spurs in the conference finals last year when he came off the bench during that phase of San Antonio's rotation cycle when their starters were getting some down time. And when he was on the floor with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden was able to find his shot or create opportunities for the other two stars.
With Harden gone, Durant will need to find own his shot and Westbrook will likely tend to try to do too much. San Antonio would then divide and conquer.
These three teams are miles apart from the rest of the conference, which gives the top seeding more than its usual dose of importance. If form holds, Number 2 will play Number 3, which means that the Clips and Thunder can wear each other out on the way to the conference finals. Meanwhile, it's always possible the Spurs could encounter unexpected choppy waters on their cruise through the playoffs, but there won't be any turbulence this year that they aren't prepared to handle.
By then, all quarters will agree: the eyes of Texas -- and the NBA -- will be upon San Antonio, this season's best in the West.