San Antonio surprised everyone last year when they were taken down in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite holding the first seed in the West, the aging Spurs found the younger Memphis team too much to handle.
So why should the Spurs have a better shot this season, after those same veterans have aged another year?
This season, the Spurs have once again proved to be a top contender in the Western conference. This time, however, they did it without one of their best players, Manu Ginobili. The all-star shooting guard has been sidelined with a broken hand since earlier in the season.
Many expected this would extinguish any last hopes the Spurs had of competing for a title. Tony Parker expressed his own concerns at the time, when he said, "It's going to be tough for us because he was playing at an All-Star level."
Well, the Spurs surprised everyone—even themselves—by proving to be strong competitors in the West.
In contests against the other top-eight teams in the conference, the Spurs have held their ground, and have beaten the six teams that they've played.
With Ginobili back, the Spurs could be a nearly unstoppable force in the West as they head into the playoffs.
This year, the Spurs have shown quite a bit of depth in their roster, which helps to give veterans like Tim Duncan a rest.
Younger players like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Danny Green, Dejuan Blair and James Anderson provide a strong second option if the veterans begin to tire.
Ginobili will also be well rested when he makes his return to the Spurs.
So, with a younger bench, a rested star, and an already-talented team, who's to say the Spurs can't make a strong run at a title this year.
If all else fails, perhaps last year's loss will prove to be a wake up call, and help strengthen the Spurs' focus on getting the franchise its fifth ring.