Recently, Charles Barkley adamantly proclaimed that not only are the Spurs not the best team in the league, they are not the best team in Texas, favoring the Dallas Mavericks as the real challenger to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Apparently, Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks has been listening to Sir Charles. Terry, adding fuel to the fire, uttered his own proclamation: “I think personally we’re better than every team in the league. And that’s no disrespect to the Spurs or anybody.”
The San Antonio Spurs are off to their best start in team history with a 27-4 record after a dominating performance over the defending champions last night.
Yet, there continues to be a measure of disrespect leveled against this team despite their impressive record and defining victories over several title contenders, including the Bulls, Jazz, Thunder, Magic and Lakers.
To put the Spurs' 27-4 start in perspective, when the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set the historic mark of 72 wins against 10 losses, they were 25-3 through December. However, are the Spurs being compared to the record-setting Bulls? Hardly.
Not one single commentator or expert has come forth to make this comparison. Will they feel compelled to do so should the Spurs conclude the month of December with a victory over the Mavericks on Dec. 30? Probably not.
It would only serve to magnify the problem small-market teams have in a media-driven sport.
Remember, it was only two years ago that the Boston Celtics went 26-3 through the month of December with a Christmas Day victory over the Lakers. That victory fueled major talk that the Celtics might surpass the Bulls' 72-win record.
Greg Popovich’s Spurs have never been media darlings. In fact, they prefer to go about their business quietly, winning without the fanfare reserved for the teams in huge media markets like Boston and LA.
If the Spurs feel disrespected by what appears to be an obvious snub, they will keep it to themselves, they won’t make a spectacle and they will continue to improve as a team.
Right now, the Spurs are the fourth highest scoring team in the league, scoring more points than the Lakers, Celtics and Heat. They have the second largest winning margin in the league at 8 points per game, trailing only the Heat at 9 points per game.
The Spurs are also the best three-point shooting team in the league. Coincidentally, they were amongst the league leaders in this category during their three championship runs since 2003.
The one area where the most improvement can be made is team defense. Clearly, the Spurs are not playing championship level defense yet, giving up 97 points per contest.
However, holding the defending champions to 82 points, as they did last night, is a good start.
The Spurs understand the ebb and flow of a very long season. They are well aware that one injury to a key player could derail their season. They are also aware that Father Time is not on their side with Tim Duncan nearing the end of his career.
It is this sense of urgency that caused their head coach to cast aside an annual routine of starting slowly and building momentum after the All-Star break. This year, the San Antonio Spurs are taking no game for granted.
They have adopted a "win now and win often" mentality that for all intents and purposes appears to be working just fine.
Typical of their past championship teams, the Spurs have found a way to get outstanding contributions from role players by plugging the right player into a time-tested winning formula.
For example, Matt Bonner is playing the role of Big Shot Bob (Robert Horry) by stretching the defense with a big man who can shoot a high percentage behind the arc.
Dejuan Blair resembles Malik Rose with his relentless pursuit of every rebound, and George Hill has stepped up to fill the huge void left behind by Bruce Bowen as the team’s best defender.
Most importantly, Greg Popovich continues to show his mastery of molding each player into one efficient unit. He cares about his team and is engaged with his role players and his superstars.
Phil Jackson the head coach of the Lakers was asked what he thought about Kobe’s performance after his team’s loss to the Spurs.
Phil replied, “I don’t know; I wasn’t out there.”
His comment reveals an obvious disconnect with his team as he defers all authority and responsibility to his superstar.
This is not the case with Coach Popovich, who is in complete control all the time. He realizes that his team’s success depends on his ability to connect with each player just as much as it depends on his players’ execution of the game plan.
The San Antonio Spurs may not get the recognition or respect that they rightly deserve, and that is just fine and dandy.
Let the media continue to gloat over the collection of superstars in Miami, let them heap endless praise on the Boston Celtics, let them continue to tout the Los Angeles Lakers as the team to beat.
The Spurs will continue to what they do best, prove that you don’t have to be the most gifted athlete or require a merger of superstars to win; you simply have to buy into the team concept and respect one another, and the victories will follow.