Over the years, sports fans have come to accept the fact that the San Antonio Spurs are one of the best teams in the NBA. Season after season, they dominate opponents, constantly fighting for the top spot in the Western conference.
Now, with the 2011-12 season winding down, the Spurs are making a final push for the No. 1 seed, as they look to extend their win streak to 10 after their Wednesday night victory over the Boston Celtics. Just a game behind the Thunder, it is highly possible that the Spurs will enter the playoffs as the top-ranked Western Conference team.
However, it seems like an all too familiar tale. Just last year, the Spurs dominated opponents throughout the season, only to have their championship hopes crushed by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Last year's early playoff exit has brought much criticism on the franchise, as many fans are quick to label them as playoff "pretenders" and not "contenders."
As one of the hottest teams in the league, though, is it really fair to assess their future based on a playoff series from a year ago? And let's not forget that (despite their seed) it was a formidable Grizzlies club they lost to, who were just one game away from making the Western Conference finals.
The Spurs are a very capable team, and while the 2010-11 season may have not ended the way Gregg Popovich and Co. would have hoped, a similar outcome is easily avoidable this season.
Last year, even with the top seed in the West wrapped up, Popovich played his starters all the way up the final game of the regular season. During that game, the organization faced their worst nightmare—an injury to star shooting guard Manu Ginobili. He missed the first game in the series versus the Grizzlies due to the injury, and played with a broken arm in the rest.
This year, Coach Pop has been very cautious in resting his stars. As the regular season comes to a close, it is highly likely that this procedure will continue, and the Big Three will be healthy and rested for the playoffs.
Other steps are necessary if the team wants to avoid another embarrassing loss in the first round. Kawhi Leonard has developed into the player that the Spurs need, but the other youngsters are still seeking their roles in the offense.
With Pop being careful about Tim Duncan's minutes, the team will turn to Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair to control the middle. They, along with Boris Diaw, have to become consistent threats both on the defensive and offensive ends.
Last year's first-round was largely due to the utter dominance of the Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph tandem. While San Antonio's big man spot has since been upgraded, it will need to develop further if they want to guarantee a deep playoff run.
With the team playing at an extremely high level, it is highly unlikely that they will suffer the same fate as lat year. Still, fans were saying the same thing last year, only to be silenced as the Grizzlies stomped on the No. 1 seed. If they want to avoid another upset, these necessary actions must be taken.