It’s the most wonderful time of the year, for basketball fanatics—the playoffs have finally arrived. This is the 14th straight season the Spurs are in the playoffs, the longest active streak in the NBA. However, the Spurs have only won a title four of those 14 years. Although many fans and analysts believe the Lakers will get their third straight title, people shouldn’t overlook the Spurs just yet. Yes, they are competent enough to get to the Finals, but they do have to face some big postseason obstacles before getting to the championships.
The Spurs have history from the regular season with each team in the Western Conference Playoff Series. With Memphis, they are 2-2; New Orleans, 2-2; Lakers 2-2; Dallas 3-1; Portland 1-3; Oklahoma City 3-0; Denver 3-1. Eleven of their 21 losses came from these teams alone. They can’t dwell on these losses though, not if they want to progress in the playoffs. They can’t let their first loss in the series against Memphis at home affect them either.
Although they shouldn’t surround themselves in the negativity that came with those losses, they should at least realize the mistakes that were made during those games and use those to improve their game against those teams. If they don’t reflect on the past to learn from their mistakes, they might find themselves out of the series sooner than they would hope. (It would be a shame, considering they worked all season for home court advantage and to prove that they were a threat to compete against.)
The Spurs need to go big and not drag out each round to seven games. As fast as the playoff series moves, they need as much rest as possible. During their first game against Memphis in the series, the player’s stats were down right depressing. Tony Parker scored 20 points on 25 percent shooting, Tim Duncan had 16 on better than 60 percent shooting, George Hill collected 15 on nearly 30 percent shooting, and Richard Jefferson had 13 on 66 percent shooting. These were the team's top four scorers; as a group, the top four scorers averaged a shooting percentage of 45.5 percent. The Grizzlies’ top four scorers averaged a shooting percentage of 69 percent. If the Spurs want to make it past this first round and into the Finals, then they need to: Go Big. They need to hit their marks and score some points.
Yes, they need to be focused and play as hard as they can to get things done and over, but they need to avoid injuries. During the last several games of the regular season, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all faced an injury of some sort. It was something that everyone was anticipating and knew was bound to happen—however, it’s happening at the worst time possible. Entering the playoff series, only one of the three remained on the bench due to injuries: Manu Ginobili.
How significant is Ginobili to the Spurs? Sunday afternoon's series opening home loss to the Grizzlies is a huge sign. The Spurs will not win this series if they can't get Ginobili back in the game, while keeping everyone else healthy, too. Not to discredit anyone’s talent, but George Hill (Ginobili’s replacement) only averaged 11.6 points per game during the regular season, in comparison to Ginobili’s 17.1 ppg. Granted, Hill wasn’t a starter, he still played in 76 games averaging 28.3 minutes per game; Ginobili played in 80 games averaging 30.3 minutes per game. There isn’t a significant difference time wise, but there is in points. Think about it, that 5-6 point difference could have won them the game on Sunday. Hypothetically speaking.
As a group, the top four scorers for the Spurs averaged a shooting percentage of 45.5% in the opening game of the series against the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies’ top four scorers averaged a shooting percentage of 69% percent. They need to be better defensively, plain and simple.
If the Spurs can avoid or get over all the hurdles and make it to the Finals, then their biggest obstacle will be the team from the Eastern Conference. Although only a total of six of their regular season losses came from the Eastern Conference teams that made it to the playoff series (Indiana 2-0, Chicago 1-1, Miami 1-1, Philadelphia 1-2, Atlanta 2-0, Orlando 1-1, Boston 0-2, New York 1-1), eight of their ten losses at the end of the regular season were from the these 15 teams.
Yes, that first loss against the Grizzlies doesn’t mean much—the Spurs have a tradition of losing the first game in the series, making this loss their sixth straight first game loss in the post season. Three of their four championships started off with a playoff loss in their opening game. Yes, the Spurs have the postseason experience, they have the strength, they have the teamwork contribution, but can they rise against small—yet critical—challenges? If they can rise against these obstacles and play like they were mid-season, then things might happen for them. If not, well… then the Spurs might have been just a bunch of hype. With their nail-biting, awful performance at the end of the regular season and starting the playoff series with a loss at home against the No. 8 seed, it wouldn’t surprise me if they couldn’t overcome the obstacles and prove the analysts wrong.