San Antonio Spurs: Is This Team a Legitimate Title Contender?

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2010

Ginobili is playing very good basketball.
Ginobili is playing very good basketball.Harry How/Getty Images

Nobody saw this coming.

The San Antonio Spurs are currently sitting at 20-3 through the first quarter of the regular season, the best mark of any team in the league.

After many experts projected this team to finish no better than fifth or sixth in a "stacked" Western Conference, it appears that it won't exactly unfold in that manner. The Spurs aren't just beating teams—they're absolutely crushing them and asserting their dominance throughout the entire 48 minutes.

The Spurs are never thought of as a prolific scoring bunch, but rather a group of defensive-minded guys designed to win those close-fought games where defense can be the deciding factor. Interestingly enough, this season it's the complete opposite.

Ranking near the top of the league in terms of points scored and in the middle of the pack in points allowed, the Spurs are throwing out a new attack that other teams haven't seen from them in quite some time.

Having said that, over the last four games the Spurs haven't let up more than 94 points, a sign that things may be beginning to turn back to how they should be. Coach Gregg Popovich has always preached defense, and the San Antonio franchise hasn't been the same since specialist Bruce Bowen headed for retirement.

The 20 wins in the team's first 23 games is the best start in franchise history. Despite a "down" season from an aging Tim Duncan, the rest of the team has really stepped up. Manu Ginobili is enjoying one of his best seasons in a while, and a very improved Richard Jefferson has been key to making it all work for the boys from San Antonio.

The team's brand of basketball might not be sexy, but it's certainly successful. They don't have the biggest names in the business, but every player on the Spurs' roster buys into the philosophy of what they're trying to do, and that's the most important factor. Team chemistry cannot be understated in today's NBA; just look at what the Celtics have been able to do in such a short stretch of time.

Having said all of that, the regular season doesn't mean anything when it comes time for postseason play, so if the Spurs are going to hope to compete with the big boys like the Lakers, Celtics and Heat, they're going to need to prove capable of playing a brand of basketball that they haven't in recent years.

Of course, they've never started 20-3 either, so perhaps 2011 is the year the Spurs finally make it back to the championship.

But it's not going to be easy.