Never, ever doubt the San Antonio Spurs.
It's a life lesson yours truly learned long ago, and it's one I've tried to pass on. It's also one I sheepishly abandoned months ago in the heat of the moment while suffering from a nosebleed atop my soapbox.
But never again.
Never again will I doubt the Gregg Popovich-coached, Tim Duncan-, Tony Parker- and Manu Ginobili-led Spurs—nor should anyone else.
These Spurs have nothing to prove. Everything that's supposed to be wrong with them is everything that's right about them.
Consistency, selflessness and systematic genius trounce age, injuries and conventional wisdom. For the past few years, the Spurs were supposed to falter, lurching into natural NBA regression, becoming another gloomy example of a team that held on to the past for too long.
That decline has yet to come. It won't come. The Spurs are still the Spurs, dangerous and defiant as ever, winning with a blueprint eerily similar to that of their 2007 championship squad.
Against most outside logic, the Spurs are competing for a title, and they're doing so like they have so many times before over the last two decades—as not only contenders, but favorites.
Win, Win, Win
The Spurs haven't lost in 18 games. Their current winning streak is a new franchise best, breaking an 18-year-old record set in 1995-96, when the team won 17 in a row.
How's that for boring and old?
The fact that the Spurs are still setting franchise records in the 17th season of the Duncan-Popovich pairing is pretty amazing.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 1, 2014
Friendly scheduling hasn't fueled their stretch of perfection. There have been some "gimmes," but not enough to suggest they're capitalizing on weaker opponents every night. Their last 18 wins include victories over the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and—most recently—Indiana Pacers.
Any one of those opponents could have handed the Spurs a loss. They're all playoff teams, all impressive in their own fashion. But the Spurs beat them. All of them. Some of them—the Pacers, for instance—badly.
Against Indiana, the Spurs waltzed to victory, carving up a typically staunch defense while shutting down a notoriously anemic offense. It was bad.
For the Pacers, that is.
The Pacers are allegedly title contenders. Until they met the Spurs, they were the Eastern Conference's top dogs, still struggling but looking up to no one. Now the Miami Heat are staring down at them.
Opposing teams don't win in Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They lose. Frequently. The Spurs won, though. They came into Indiana, where the Pacers had lost four times all year, and they won.
That's how it's gone for the Spurs of late. Any test is aced, any doubt stamped out. Their last 18 games have been displays of absolute dominance, with one team towering over everyone else.
Here's a glance at San Antonio's splits during their win streak:
|Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||Net Rtg.||FG%||3P%||Def. REBS||ASTS||BLKS|
Objectively speaking: wow.
Subjectively speaking: Dear Lord these Spurs are more incredible than riding shotgun in a top-down convertible next to (insert celebrity crush here) after winning the lottery.
They've been that good, that unbeatable.
When looking beyond the Spurs' winning streak, they're still absurdly good.
Though 18 straight wins have given them the NBA's best record, they were always going to contend for that honor. The way they were playing before now was still great. They still established themselves as the most balanced team in the Association.
See for yourself:
|Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||Net Rtg.||FG%||3P%||Def. REBS||ASTS||BLKS|
Aside from blocks per game, the Spurs rank in the top four of everything else overall, proving, once again, the last 18 games aren't some oddity. What the Spurs are doing is sustainable because it's what they've been doing all season.
Both sides of the floor are covered. The Spurs have a knack for impeccable efforts everywhere. Offense, defense, leadership—you name it.
Bench play has been a valuable catalyst too. According to HoopStats.com, their second unit ranks first in scoring per game (45.4 points) and differential (17.5). When bench players are on the floor, they don't miss a beat. Everyone—from stars to role players to bench talents—are in sync.
The Spurs embody synergy.
But this is the regular season. Will a strong bench matter in the playoffs?
The Spurs’ bench is so, so good. I am curious how much of an advantage that’ll be in the playoffs, though.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 1, 2014
It doesn't matter if it matters.
Rotations are shortened during the postseason. Only one Spurs player (Parker) is averaging over 30 minutes a night this season. That's going to change.
That could be bad.
Or it could be great.
Coach Pop is a minutes-managing genius. You don't guide a championship contender for this long using the same core you had 12 years ago without being a talent-preserving prodigy.
"I think he'll be happy if we lose anytime soon," Parker said of Popovich, per The Associated Press (via ESPN). "I'm pretty sure because he's going to rest like half of the team."
Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are all going to be fresh for the playoffs—fresh as can be anyway—and able to handle heavier workloads. It worked that way last year. Both Parker and Duncan cleared 35 minutes per game during the postseason, while Ginobili approached 27. They know what they're doing. And what they're doing is already paying dividends.
Take Duncan, for example. He's averaging 15.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks in 29.3 minutes per game. No player in NBA history has reached those benchmarks while logging under 30 minutes per game. No one.
Such is the impact of the Spurs' team model. Health comes first, above everything. It won't matter if a win streak is on the line. Pop and crew care about health more than anything else because of the results it's yielding.
And when things don't go their way, when sub-par production or injuries impede the potential of the Big Three, the Spurs have a budding star in Kawhi Leonard. Or an assassin in Marco Belinelli. Or an underrated point man in Patty Mills. Or a reinvented Boris Diaw.
The Spurs have everyone and everything they need to win a championship, and that should scare everyone and everything in their way.
Trust the Spurs
Never, ever doubt the Spurs.
Always believe in them.
Always trust them.
They're not too old. Doubting them in spite of everything we know is what's too old and, frankly, too wrong.
Absolutely ridiculous. San Antonio's NET efficiency during their 16-game win streak is +16.1. I want to age like San Antonio Spurs do— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 1, 2014
Forget about their 0-3 record against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. Never mind their 3-0 record against the Golden State Warriors or 2-1 showing against the Los Angeles Clippers. No one, two or three regular-season series tell you enough about the Spurs.
Which NBA team is the favorite to win the title right now?
Look at their entire 2013-14 campaign instead. Look at everything they've done, everything they continue to do. Look at how close they came to winning a title last year too: They were seconds away from another championship.
The Heat won last year because they were the better team. That's how it goes. Luck doesn't win a best-of-seven series. The Spurs had an opportunity to win, and they didn't. The Heat did. They were the better team.
Right now, though, there is no better team, no longer winning streak. There is only the Spurs, the NBA's best team playing their best basketball at the most pivotal point of their season.
Best NBA Record Since January 1 Spurs 33-9 Clippers 32-10 Rockets 28-10 Nets 29-12— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 1, 2014
Respect them, then, for what they are: incredible. Astounding.
Until postseason basketball proves or shows otherwise, we're forced to go with what we know. And what we know right now is the Spurs are the NBA's best team. They're title favorites, winning and winning—and winning some more—closing in on that Larry O'Brien Trophy faster and more convincingly than anyone else.