When people talk about the best teams in the NBA, the first name they mention is rarely San Antonio. But guess what? The Spurs are rolling along again, leading the league with a 43-12 record and getting little respect as a contender for the championship.
It's amazing. No team in pro sports gets less respect that Gregg Popovich's bunch. The only real attention they got this year was when Popovich dared to leave four of his best players home for a nationally televised game against the Heat. People strain to find reasons to believe the Knicks or Pacers or Clippers might win the title. Hardly anyone points to the team with the best record and says, "How about them?"
OK, so they lost four in a row to Oklahoma City in the Western finals last year. Once the Thunder hit its stride, the Spurs began to look a little old. But let's not forget, the had won 20 straight games before stumbling, including their first 10 in the playoffs. That sounds like a contender to me.
All they do in the regular season is win games. Heading into tonight's national TV game against the Clippers, the Spurs have won four in a row and 15 of 16. This team sure does go on streaks. They're 5-1 on their annual Rodeo Road Trip, with three games to go. It'll be a tough finishing run: At the Clippers tonight, at Golden State Friday, and at Phoenix on Sunday.
Oh, and they've gone 9-1 without their veteran superstar, Tim Duncan. Point guard Tony Parker has carried them during that stretch, averaging 26 points and 9 assists while shooting 60 percent over those 10 games. Parker is a legitimate MVP candidate who gets overlooked, just like his team.
Parker is averaging 21.0 points and 7.7 assists, while shooting 53 percent from the field. He's one of two players in the NBA averaging 20 points and 7 assists while shooting 50 percent. The other: LeBron James, who is having the best season of his career and the clear frontrunner for MVP.
Popovich should be on the short list for Coach of the Year, too. He's the longest-tenured head coach in pro sports (Lindy Ruff was second until the Sabres fired him Wednesday). He also might be the best. His team is a fundamental clinic. They're among the league leaders again in most offensive categories, and they're near the top in defensive efficiency, too. The Spurs have been rolling lately without Duncan, and with a starting lineup that includes Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
I say they're the favorite in the West. Okie City beat them in large part because the Spurs couldn't deal with James Harden. The Thunder won't be the same team in a playoff series without Harden, who drove the Spurs crazy on pick and rolls in last year's conference finals.
Maybe we'll get that Miami-San Antonio final that seemed inevitable at one point last spring. Look at the standings. Why would such a matchup be any great surprise?