5 Keys to Watch as Spurs Make Playoff Push in Season's 2nd Half
The Spurs dynasty, led by Gregg Popovich, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, has been in a championship drought since 2007, despite entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the past two years.
Right now, the Spurs look comfortable in the No. 3 seed with a 32-10 record, and with several key players nearing retirement age, the team seems poised to make the best out of another chance to compete for the fifth NBA championship in franchise history.
With a rejuvenated Duncan, Parker putting up some of the most impressive numbers of his career and a younger and more dynamic supporting cast, it looks like the Spurs might have figured things out.
Tim Duncan's Renaissance
Somebody must have forgotten to tell Duncan that NBA players are supposed to decline in production when they enter their 30s.
Duncan, who is 36 years old and in his 15th year in the league, has bounced back from his past two lackluster seasons.
His stat line for the season says it all. His points per game average is 17.3, which is up from 15.4 in 2011-12 and 13.4 in 2010-11. He has become even more effective from the free-throw line. His 82-percent average from the line is a career high. In all his years in the NBA, he has never cracked 80 percent.
Still, the most impressive aspect of Duncan's turnaround season is his blocking. He is averaging 2.8 blocks per game, which is almost double what he had last year. In fact, you have to go back to 2002-03 to find a year where Duncan averaged more blocks.
Now, I'm not saying that Duncan is playing like he is 26, but teams should be wary of him in the months to come.
Tony Parker's Career Year
Because Parker forms the Spurs "Big Three" along with Duncan and Ginobili, you would be excused if you thought that he was also closing in on retirement.
However, the Frenchman is only turning 31 this year and has plenty of gas left in the tank.
For the 2012-13 season, Parker has truly established himself as the focal point of the Spurs' offense. He is averaging 19.7 PPG and 7.3 APG, both of which are well above his career average of 17.0 PPG and 6.0 APG.
For better or worse, this is Parker's team now. He is the only starter who is in his prime, and the team's postseason hopes will depend on his ability to run the offense.
Manu Ginobili Needs to Stay Healthy
A week ago, Manu Ginobili tweeted that he will be out for 10 to 14 days with a strained hamstring.
Ginobili's talent is only matched by his injury problems, and the Argentinian needs to be in full health if the Spurs are going to have a shot at the title.
His late-game heroics are much needed, and he can't make those shots if he is sitting on the bench nursing an injury.
On another note, if Ginobili's latest injury proved anything, it was that Popovich was right to let his starters rest against the Heat. Ginobili is 35 years old and has a long history of injuries. Obviously he can't be asked to suit up for more games than he absolutely has to.
Tiago Splitter's Star Can't Be Allowed to Fade
However, Splitter needs to step up his game when it comes to rebounding. His 5.4 RPG is much too low, and while the Spurs are eighth in points allowed, they are 20th in rebounding.
Splitter, who is 6'11", should be more than capable of grabbing a few more boards.
The Young Guns Must Bring Their A-Game
While they are often overshadowed by the "Big Three," the Spurs do have a line of young solid players on their roster.
Danny Green is only 25 years old but has started every game of the season, averaged 9.5 PPG and provided Ginobili with much-needed breathing room.
However, the diamond in the rough on this team is Kawhi Leonard. Although he is so young that he did not reach the legal drinking age until six months ago, he has already established himself as an integral part of the team. His 1.76 STPG is 10th among all players.
If the Spurs are going to win the 2012-13 NBA championship, they can't depend on their starters alone; they're too old.
The young guns need to provide them with much-needed spark to contend with the more explosive Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder" href="http://bleacherreport.com/oklahoma-city-thunder">Oklahoma City Thunder.