No one expected the San Antonio spurs to be carrying the mantle of "Best Record" in the NBA at this point. That's coming from a Spurs fan.
The San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of an incredible season, with at the time of this article, a 36-6 record, their best start ever and on pace to winning 70 games. It's hard to pull that feat, especially in an NBA season that has contenders in every division.
Ultimately, are the Spurs for real? Although the most passionate Spurs fan will say an emphatic yes, I'm a bit more reserved but I will admit, I'm very optimistic.
The Spurs, after being pegged as old and washed up, are not playing like the Spurs of the past few seasons. As they pass the midpoint, here are a few of the key points to consider as the Spurs make run for the playoffs.
In previous seasons, the Spurs have always shown a slow ascent towards their predestined march into the playoffs. Last year they were at a respectable 25-16; they started the 2008 campaign with a 28-13 record.
Although both good starts, the Spurs were losing to teams they shouldn't lose to and at times competing at an inconsistent level. The Spurs this season have maintained a high level of competition even while resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker.
In 18 games, the top rebounder was somebody outside of the Big Three, which means more rest for Tim, which in the long run proves beneficial. Last year, the Spurs would sit Tim Duncan at the risk of a game's outcome.
Many have pointed out that the Spurs have played an easy schedule but that holds false. As of now, their SOS (strength of schedule) is ranked 6th in the NBA, with only OKC and Dallas as the only winning teams with tougher schedules.
The Spurs are a remarkable 22-2 at home which will prove vital if they maintain their hold on the top spot in the conference. Phenomenal bench play has been incredible. In 9 games, the leading (or co-leading) top scorer was not one of the Big 3.
All this has come through an unprecedented offensive output that has them on the move. Known as a defensive stalwart in their previous 4 championships, the Spurs start the decade as the 5th highest scoring team in the NBA.
The Spurs have a blistering 104 point average. The Spurs are 24-3 when they do score over 100, 2nd best in the NBA. The Spurs, when leading in FG% are are staggering 26-0. Gary Neal has proven to be quite the upstart, even leading in scoring for the Spurs in a few games.
After a rocky 1st season with the Spurs, Richard Jefferson has contributed mightily in all facets of his game. RJ has found his role within the Spurs system and has rebounded quite nicely.
So why the hesitation? Why not yell "Go Spurs Go!" or "Mavs Suck!" at every chance? Well, I still do yell "Mavs suck" regardless but I do have some mild yet legit concerns regarding the Spurs.
All this has come with a slump on defense. Mind you, the word "slump" is relative here; the Spurs have remained in the top 5 teams in the NBA for the past several seasons.
The Spurs are ranked 10th and just recently posted their 1st back to back loss of the year. Although the Spurs have the 2nd best winning percentage when opponents score 100 points (10-4), the Spurs are 12th in points allowed.
I know, some gripe, but defense wins championships. The Suns (before Amare left to brighter pastures) were number one in points but always fell short to... the Spurs. Defense is still needed and I'm sure Coach Greg Popovich will remind the Spurs that defense is key.
The Spurs have yet to see the maturation of Tiago Splitter. Now, I know it's his 1st season and, like RJ, he needs time to adjust, but Splitter has yet to really gel in the system.
The Spurs have had great contributions that have made Splitter's lack of impact less noticeable but later on when the Spurs need that big man of the bench, which Splitter is supposed to be, the Spurs may be in for a rude awakening. Again, it's not nitpicky, just a point of concern.
The Spurs have a very tough remaining of January - Febuary schedule will be a great test to the team's mental fortitude. The Rodeo Road trip, the annual extended road trip where Dallas kinfolk invade the AT&T Center, has three back to back games, with one back to back right before it in January.
These back to back games have been the Achilles heel for the Spurs; they are 8-4 in six of these back to back games this season, losing the second game three times. Earlier in the season, Coach Pop threw the NY Knick game in a run n gun shoot out to preserve minutes for the next day's contest with Boston which they still lost.
All in all, to leave on a positive note for Spurs fans, I really like the Silver & Black's chances. In all the games played to date, the Spurs have used the same starters (Duncan, Parker, Ginobli, RJ and DeJuan Blair).
After last year's alchemist attempt and having multiple starting lines, this year's group has been incredibly cohesive. Coach Pop has had the luxury of trying different sets in the 4th quarter when the game is decided, unlike last year when it was a game time decision.
The emergence of Richard Jefferson and the Spurs bench has been nothing short of remarkable. In an offseason ripe with big names moving and free agents left and right, the Spurs stayed pat.
Now, they had draft picks, and Splitter left Europe, and free agents... but RJ returning more confident and redefining his game to fit with the Spurs have been the biggest boon for the Spurs as he has finally become the offensive contributor the Spurs needed.
Lastly, the Spurs first half of the season run has given them a nice lead at the moment but it's come at the almost paradoxical enormous benefit of fewer minutes for the trio. Particularly, this bodes extremely well for Tim Duncan, as he has entered the post season the last few times at a slower pace.
The San Antonio Spurs have surprised many, some who had even written them off as non contenders, to the best record in the NBA. If the Spurs can keep pace, stay healthy, and continue to mesh as well as they have been, the San Antonio Spurs may prove the team to beat come playoff time.