The 2012-13 season for the San Antonio Spurs has gone pretty much as expected: Consistent production, minute-watching, changing rotations and a few bruised old knees and ankles. No new story here. Rinse and repeat.
This year the Spurs entered the playoffs in slightly unusual fashion, dropping six of nine games and losing the No. 1 seed they held for most of the season. This prompted head coach Gregg Popovich to declare this the worst they have ever looked coming into the playoffs.
After a sweep of the depleted Los Angeles Lakers, the Spurs are now facing real postseason competition with a young team shooting lights-out and displaying court composure that is well beyond their years.
Let's separate some fact from fiction regarding the postseason thus far and address some presuppositions that were held at season's end.
On Feb. 21, Tony Parker scorched Chris Paul and his Clippers in a nationally televised game shortly after the All-Star break. Tony went off for 31 points with no turnovers, holding Paul to four points and zero assists. This was Parker playing at his peak, and prompted ESPN's Skip Bayless to dub him the league's MVP up to that point.
Then, in the fresh hours of March, Parker went down with an ankle injury playing the Sacramento Kings which put him out about three weeks.
For the remainder of the regular season, TP9 just didn't quite seem like himself. His shot looked a tad sloppy and his usual Kill Bill-esque slashing sprees just weren't there.
This led to some inevitable questions about how how he would perform in the postseason, with many, including Magic Johnson and the aforementioned Bayless even predicting an upset from the Lakers in the first round.
Parker has answered those questions. Tony is back to his regular season ways, getting into the lane where his tear drop floater is making big men look foolish once again. He is averaging 22.8 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting and is dishing out 6.2 assists per game.
In order for the Spurs to advance, Parker will have to continue to show why he's in the elite company of MVP candidacy.
There's really not much more that needs to be said about The Big Fundamental at this point. Tim Duncan is putting up phenomenally consistent numbers, 37 years old or not.
In the first round against the Lakers, he accepted the challenge of facing perhaps the best frontcourt in the league. Game 3 gave Timmy fans a particular treat, as he went for 26 points on a remarkable 12-for-16 shooting. Tim averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for the series.
Tim has started this series in similar remarkable fashion, averaging 21 points and 10.1 rebounds during his first two contests against the Warriors.
Anyone who watches Duncan play, however, will certainly know that numbers are only part of the story. His mere presence on the court invigorates the youngsters and provides them with a sense of stability. He possesses the leadership that only true superstars have and is the team's defensive anchor in the paint.
Duncan's current averages for the postseason thus far: 18.7 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Coach Gregg Popovich stated that the 37-year-old would call it quits when he feels he's no longer contributing. Luckily for Spurs' fans, that day hasn't yet arrived.
When news broke that the Spurs would be releasing Stephen Jackson due to chemistry issues, fans wondered who would fill the veteran forward's role.
Shortly after, the Spurs announced their signing of Tracy McGrady and imaginations went wild. Could the former superstar return from China and once again make a splash on an American court?
So far, not really.
It's not necessarily that he can't, but rather that Pop had other things in mind in the acquisition of the 15-year veteran, stating he will be using him as an "insurance policy."
Jackson averaged 19.5 minutes per game over the course of the season with the Spurs, and he was often called upon to come up big in clutch situations.
McGrady has been called upon all of two times. Once in the waning minutes of a fourth-quarter blowout of the Lakers in Game 4. The other was in the waning minutes of an imminent Spurs loss Wednesday night in Game 2 vs. Golden State.
The 33-year-old was once one of the most exciting players in the NBA. He holds career averages of 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. T-Mac boasts seven All-Star appearances and is a two-time scoring champ until his game went sorely downhill dealing with knee issues.
Joining the Spurs, however, has given McGrady his first taste of a conference semifinals. Joining a team like San Antonio will do that.
Many Spurs fans, including myself, wondered if we'd seen the last of Manu Ginobili's late-game heroics. The feisty Argentinian has been lighting up the River Walk for a decade now with his inimitable brand of crafty offense and fierce intensity.
Ginobili has been a huge factor in helping the Spurs raise championship banners and exciting fans with his on-court theatrics.
However, age plays favorites to no one (except perhaps Duncan and Kobe Bryant) and Manu hasn't really been the Manu we've come to know and love. A hamstring injury kept him out for four weeks, returning at the start of the playoffs where he has performed hit/miss.
Granted, Ginobili isn't seeing the minutes he has in the past and is now the commander of the club's benchmen. Still, for fans who remember watching the excitement he once presented, it's a little hard to watch him go 5-for-20 from the field in a playoff game.
One thing Manu has proven, however, is that he still has the potential to come up huge when needed. As anyone who watched the instant classic Game 1 vs. the Warriors will recall, Ginobili buried the trey with 1.2 seconds left in double overtime, giving the Spurs the win they shouldn't have had.
Ginobili's days are certainly numbered, but still being able to knock down last-second threes is a good sign for Spurs' fans.
When I saw the breaking news headline that Oklahoma City Thunder's point guard Russell Westbrook would be out indefinitely with a torn meniscus, I had two thoughts simultaneously: What a heartbreak for OKC, and what an interesting new dynamic in the Western Conference.
After this strange twist of fate, many began to claim the Spurs as the new favorite to represent the West in the NBA Finals. And although the second-seeded Spurs will certainly surprise no one if they make it there, the road is still anything but easy.
The Spurs displayed a few troubling signs during the loss in Game 2, where they once again found themselves chasing the Warriors' tail most of the night. A lack of their usual pristine ball movement hampered their offense and they seemingly had no answer for Golden State's trigger-happy guards.
If San Antonio wants to make it past this round, they will need to bring heightened intensity and maybe make a few shots of their own, after going 35 percent from the floor in Game 2.
Supposing the Spurs pull out of this round, they will be facing a defensive juggernaut in the Memphis Grizzlies, or a familiar foe in the Kevin Durant-led OKC Thunder, both of which have handed San Antonio playoffs defeat.
The Grizzlies boast one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the league and stifling defense. The Thunder, though without Westbrook, still have KD, youth and a taste of the NBA finals they'll be aching to revisit.
But hey, this is the playoffs, and it's not supposed to be easy. Like the ancient proverb states: "It's a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n' roll."