The San Antonio Spurs have already won Game 1 of their opening-round series against the Utah Jazz. In that game the Spurs played very impressive defense. They held Utah to 41.1 percent from the floor, and the Jazz only scored 91 points while Spurs won in convincing fashion by a score of 106-91.
Best advice for the Spurs? Keep it up.
That's might be easier said than done. Oh, sure, San Antonio has a significant advantage over the Jazz, whose 11-22 road record is the worst among playoff teams.
This trip to the postseason isn't about beating the Jazz, though. It's about beating everyone. It's about winning the West and then it's about winning the Finals.
Every team in the playoffs will eagerly tell you the ring is the postseason mission, but very few of those teams have a four-time NBA champion like Tim Duncan in their starting lineup. Or have two three-time title winners like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili getting big minutes as well. Throw in head coach Gregg Popovich, who led the Spurs to NBA titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, and San Antonio has reasons beyond its No. 1 seed to expect greatness this postseason.
A team doesn't have to be a defensive powerhouse to win an NBA title, but it sure helps to be among the better defensive teams in the league. This season's Spurs might have tied for the best record in the league, but defensively speaking they were in the middle of the pack.
Opponents' field-goal percentage? The Spurs were 17th in the league at 45.2 percent. What about points per game? The Spurs were 16th at 96.5 per game. In a 30-team league, the Spurs' numbers in these two key defensive categories are nearly smack dab in the middle. That has to change for the Spurs to win a ring this season.
Even if you wanted to grant the Spurs the benefit of the doubt and assume they will end up winning their opening-round series against Utah, it's tough to see the Spurs just outscoring the Clippers or Grizzlies. The Spurs have depth, they have experience, they have a good mix of young talent, veteran leadership and solid coaching.
In short, the Spurs have all the ingredients of a team that plays very good defense. They just haven't put it all together yet this season. That's going to have to change. Time isn't just running out on the Spurs for this season, it's running short on this current incarnation of the Spurs.
The entire Tim Duncan era could conceivably end this summer when Duncan becomes a free agent. Even if he does stay in San Antonio he's already showing signs of aging, and the number of seasons that Duncan has left as a legitimate NBA force in the middle are ticking down.
Last season the Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West. They squandered that opportunity by becoming just the fourth No. 1 seed to be upset by an eight seed in the history of the modern NBA playoff format.
This season the Spurs are back. They're the No. 1 seed and they looked impressive against the Jazz in Game 1. If the Spurs can't figure out how to improve their defense, it's only a matter of time until a lower-seeded team sends them home.
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