Let’s be honest here: if the Lakers, Heat or Celtics had gone 35-6 we’d have ordered the Larry O’Brien trophy shipped to them on an express ticket—and why not?
The only thing that prevented the Lakers or Celtics from having established a dynasty over the last three years is each other and at face value the “Heatles” trio has more talent than any we’ve seen since, dare I say it, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
But this isn’t about them. This is about why the Spurs are on pace to challenge the ‘96 Bulls 72-win record and no one seems to notice.
The Lakers have been surrounded with 70 win talk over each of the last three seasons, including this one.
In fact, after the Lakers’ 8-0 start to this season people were already penciling them in as the greatest threat the Bulls record has ever seen.
Yet midway through the season, it’s the Spurs who are on track to challenge the record, yet they’ve gone largely ignored. Why?
Could it be because some see the Spurs as boring?
Well, at 104 points per game, good for the fifth highest average in the league, the Spurs are as entertaining as they’ve ever been. Unlike in previous years, they thrive in fast-paced, full court games and what else could you ask for?
The Spurs certainly aren’t boring on the court, but the argument could be made that they’re boring off of it.
San Antonio offers no Kevin Garnetts yelling at everyone and everything in sight, no Ron Artests occasionally sporting eccentric Rodmanesque hairdos nor any LeBron Jameses, whose Anakin Skywalker-like overnight descent from hero to villain earned him the ire of fans across America.
And please don’t pretend that Tony Parker’s alleged affair leading to his divorce with Eva Longoria counts as all that newsworthy. If Parker is the last attractive professional athlete to split up with his significant other after being accused of cheating in the year 2011, I’ll shave my head bald.
Anyway, the Spurs can’t even catch a break on the road as they sit behind 24 other NBA teams in road attendance. Despite leading the NBA, the Spurs find themselves in a category with the mediocre Hawks and Grizzlies, the plummeting Mavericks and the Cavaliers and Bobcats.
Good luck finding NBA attendance records from 1996, but I’d guarantee that the Bulls sold slightly more tickets on the road. Oh, and the top three teams in road attendance this year?
The Heat, Celtics and Lakers, surprise surprise. So what is it that makes it so easy for fans and analysts across the league to dismiss the Spurs?
Could it be their lack of recent postseason success?
Sure they’ve won four titles from 1999-2007, but they haven’t made a Finals appearance since '07 and hit an all-time low in last year’s playoffs, being swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns.
Even after dominating for such a long stretch one could see why the Spurs would have a hard time living that down. Perhaps it could be because the last few seasons in the NBA have taught us how little meaning the regular season can hold as it pertains to the playoffs.
In 2006, the Spurs and Pistons, participants in the previous NBA Finals, earned the best records in their respective conferences and the top two overall records in the NBA and neither made it back to the Finals.
The 2007 Dallas Mavericks seemed poised to redeem their NBA Finals loss of the previous season and tear through any opposition after tallying 67 wins, tying for the fourth highest win total in NBA history, only to fall to the 42-win Warriors in the first round.
The 2010 Boston Celtics won only 50 games and came within mere seconds of toppling the defending champion Lakers in the Finals.
Though it may not be fair to the current Spurs to judge them by their previous failings and those of other teams, those teams have taught us that the regular season isn’t everything.
Besides, are we so sure the Spurs could actually beat the Lakers, Heat or Celtics in a seven game series?
On paper, the Spurs wouldn’t stand a chance. They don’t have the brute size of the Celtics or Lakers and aren’t remotely close to the Heat athletically. Even just in pure talent the Spurs aren’t quite in their category.
Though Tim Duncan is one of the greatest forwards of all time, his declining production, including career worsts in points 13.7 and rebounds 9.5, is clearly more of a result of his diminishing abilities than the level of depth on the team.
Though Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson are nothing to scoff at, they don't exactly have a dynastic feel to them.
On the other hand, when Shaq starts, the Celtics are the only team of the last two decades, and probably beyond, that could argue that each member of their starting five should wind up in the Hall of Fame.
In Kobe Bryant, the Lakers boast arguably the greatest individual talent since Jordan, and with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom they boast more sheer size than the Bulls ever did.
Though the Spurs bounced LeBron James out of the 2007 Finals rather easily, they’d likely find James a bit more of a challenge now than when he was 21 years old carrying a team of mannequins and lukewarm bodies, given that he’s added range, depth, defense and furthered his already insane amount of explosiveness and strength since then.
And his teammates are better too.
The Spurs wouldn’t stand a chance on paper, but then again on paper the Spurs aren’t a 35-6 team, on paper the 2007 Mavericks should have been NBA Champions and on paper LeBron James should have never made it to the Finals in the first place.
Maybe the truth is that there is no singular reason why the Spurs are being overlooked.
Maybe they are being overlooked for each or only one of the reasons I gave, but if you don’t want to see the championship parade in San Antonio this year you had better hope your team doesn’t overlook them in the playoffs.