As the first half of the NBA season draws to a close, the San Antonio Spurs sit comfortably in a familiar spot, atop the West and the rest of the league. At 41-12, the Spurs have recently overtaken the West's previous leaders—the Oklahoma City Thunder—sporting an 11-game win streak that was recently snapped.
More impressive than the streak itself, however, is the manner in which the team has achieved it. Despite recent injuries to All-Star Tim Duncan and veteran shooting guard, Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have failed to let the predicament impact their success.
Throughout the 11-game win streak, as well as the team's pair of wins following its unexpected loss to the Detroit Pistons, the shorthanded team has found other reliable players, proving that even without the service of two of its most vital contributors, it is an undeniably competitive squad.
The primary reason for the Spurs' unyielding dominance has been the superstar effort of their All-Star point guard, Tony Parker. Parker has recently bolstered his case as an MVP candidate, increasing his already-amazing campaign by picking up the slack left by the absent stars.
Over the previous 10 games, Parker has averaged over 25 points on 58 percent shooting in addition to just under 10 assists per contest. His scoring efficiency is easily the best among starting point guards. He hasn't only been efficient with his scoring, though, since he has been doing so at an extremely high rate.
He has completely taken over opposing defenses, whether it be by scoring or passing, or—in some instances—a remarkable combination of the two.
Against the Brooklyn Nets, Parker exploded for 29 points, 11 assists and no turnovers. Prior to that, he sported a back-to-back pair of 31-point games preceded by a 19-point, 12-assist contest in which the Spurs lost Duncan for an extended period of time.
Many teams would have fallen apart without an All-Star, but the Spurs—being lucky enough to have a second on their roster—were carried by Parker, who is rising rapidly on the MVP ladder.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Despite his talents, Parker hasn't been the sole reason for the Spurs' continued success in wake of Duncan and Ginobili's injuries. As evidenced by the team's surprising win over the Chicago Bulls without Parker, the team has plenty of weapons outside of the Big Three.
In the Chicago instance, Kawhi Leonard became to go-to guy, pacing the Spurs to a 103-89 victory, in which he scored 26 points on 61-percent shooting. The game marked his fifth in six contests in which he has reached double figures in scoring.
Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN
Spurs will dribble out 103-89 victory, as shorthanded as they come. This one pure gravy. Leonard with career-high 26.2/12/2013, 3:19:38 AM
Leonard has also demonstrated a rebounded prowess recently, filling in for the team's hurt big man by dominating on the glass—with a pair of double-digit rebounding nights in addition to a handful of other impressive performances.
Leonard hasn't been the only non-core player who has shined individually. Danny Green has been incredibly impressive as of the late, averaging 18 points since Duncan's injury.
He has also been incredibly efficient from beyond the arc, shooting 60 percent from long range. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Green exploded for 28 points, a career high. He also shot 8-12 from three-point land.
Even when the nucleus is present, role-players like Green and Leonard have been excellent contributors, but in light of an injury plague, these players, specifically the aforementioned, have really gone the extra-mile in helping to carry the teams.
Given the exceptional caliber at which Duncan has been playing, finding someone of equal talents to replace him isn't feasible. That said, Duncan's partner in the post, Tiago Splitter, has done anything but disappoint.
Splitter, whose improvement has been visible all season long, has really come into his own as of the late, scoring efficiently and often, while also controlling the boards and being an active participant on the defensive end.
From a scoring perspective, Splitter currently boasts a double-digit streak that dates back to January 7, in which the team suffered a defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets.
Since then, Splitter has become a consistent scorer and has been excellent both with and without Duncan. Though Parker hasn't struggled in dominating the scoreboard, Splitter has played a Duncan-like role on the offensive end, constantly using the pick-and-roll to find open looks beneath the rim, or to free up Parker for a deuce of his own.
Splitter isn't going to win you too many games alone, but over the past few contests, he has certainly demonstrated a strong ability to lead the post and contribute actively in every aspect.
As the Spurs prepare to enter the All-Star break, they'll have to finish off their annual Rodeo Road Trip, a grueling set of away games in which the team has had an extremely successful history. Currently 3-1, they have just over half of the trip left, in which they will face playoff teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
The injury status of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili remains up in the air, but with coach Gregg Popovich declaring his disinterest in rushing back his stars, it is hard to pinpoint a return date in the next game or two.
Even so, the Spurs have performed excellently without the two, and with so many weapons, they remain a talented squad even when they are shorthanded.
Success has been frequent as of the late, and with the team playing at a high level, one can only expect similar results for the rest of the road trip.