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Writing off the San Antonio Spurs appears to be something of a yearly ritual. The logic makes sense. Duncan is almost 36. Ginobili is a 34-year-old magnet for pain. And, with multiple rings already, the "Big Three" may just not have the fire and urgency to make it through another postseason.
Don't be so sure.
Tony Parker is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, and when Tim Duncan's minutes spike in the playoffs, he just might surprise a few people as well. It should go without saying that it's never a great idea to count Gregg Popovich's team out.
Yes, the front-line depth is thin. DeJuan Blair is undersized. Tiago Splitter is untested. Matt Bonner isn't going to block many shots.
That said, this team has beaten anyone and everyone that matters in the Western Conference in spite of conventional wisdom. The Thunder? Check. Mavericks? Check. Clippers? Check and check. Grizzlies? Three checks.
It's unlikely San Antonio will make it through the Finals having lost only two games in the postseason (as it did in 1999 when the season was similarly shortened by a lockout). The Spurs will have to contend with the Lakers' seven-footers. They will have to slow down the Thunder's explosive scoring output. And, should they make it that far, the Miami Heat have "Goliath" written all over them.
It won't be easy, but nor has it ever been. San Antonio has found a way to gut it out more often than not.
Until injuries derailed this team late last season, it was the most successful in the Western Conference. This season's team, despite a slightly inferior record, is almost certainly better.
Last year, the Spurs inflated their win column largely on the backs of wins against sub-.500 teams. This season has been another story entirely. The marquee matchups have gone San Antonio's way with rare exception, and mostly without Ginobili.
Manu should be able to return in ample time to find his rhythm before the playoffs, and when he does, don't be surprised if this team has another run in them. As of the All-Star break, the Western Conference has learned that it just might.