The San Antonio Spurs have rebounded from a four-game losing streak after the All-Star Break that put their playoff life in question, winning 13 of their last 16 and lowering the magic number to clinch a postseason berth down to just two.
Consequently, coach Gregg Popovich must soon decide on his rotation for the team's pursuit of a second straight NBA championship.
San Antonio boasts one of the few rosters that can realistically employ two complete lineups, so Pop has plenty of options to guide the squad throughout the playoffs.
Though particular situations may call for adjustments, the Spurs have an ideal rotation for postseason success—but it's not the same one from the title-winning crew.
San Antonio obliterated opponents during the 2014 playoffs thanks to a balanced, consistent attack from both the starters and reserves.
This season, however, it appears that the lineup of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter must carry the team. Fortunately for the Spurs, that five-man group is destroying everything right now.
"Their starting unit is 31.8 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent since the All-Star Break," Matt Moore of CBS Sports said. "If you're wondering, that's flesh-eating-swarm-of tiny-robots good, which is just a step above herd-of-steroid-infused-elephants-with-rocket launchers good."
Without a doubt, the lineup's success is a product of Parker returning to his elite form following a hamstring injury, finishing at the rim, mixing in a few jumpers and wreaking general havoc on opponents' defensive spacing.
During March, the 15-year veteran has amassed 18.4 points per game on 55.3 percent shooting and dished 5.3 assists per game, while San Antonio has tallied a league-leading 114.0 offensive rating, 2.06 assist-to-turnover ratio and 55.2 effective field-goal percentage.
If there's a perfect moment to declare the Spurs back, it's right this second. And that's a reflection on Parker's performance, because he creates space for Duncan and Splitter on the blocks, Green on the arc and Leonard, truthfully, wherever he may roam.
But San Antonio's starters aren't simply excelling offensively; rather, the defense has been fantastic, too. Parker sparks the scoring, but the other four players carry the load on the other end.
The interior combination of Duncan and Splitter along with the perimeter duo of Leonard and Green—when at their best—is a tenacious group. Per NBA.com, the starting unit has recorded a 90.2 defensive rating throughout the month.
Put simply, Popovich needs to utilize this lineup as much as possible without overworking it.
During 2013-14, the Spurs' bench led the league with 44.3 points per outing and buried 39.6 percent of its trifectas, the best and second-best marks in the league, respectively, according to Hoops Stats.
Then in the postseason, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw logged 81 minutes together, pouring in 54.3 percent of their shots and 40.0 percent from long distance, per NBA.com.
Continued production when the starters left the floor keyed San Antonio's run to the championship. But this year, Spurs fans dread the moment Parker and Co. check out.
The reserves' shooting rates have dropped to 44.4 and 34.7, respectively, according to Hoops Stats. Ginobili knows the bench needs to pick it up, as noted by Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.
We haven't been as good as last year. It could be because of (injuries), but that was at the beginning. Now we have no excuses. We should be doing better. We have a very deep team. We should be able to get those (contributions) the way we did a year ago. So it's something we have to improve on.
Ginobili held the team together in Parker's early-season absence, but the sixth man has ultimately had a mediocre campaign. His 112 offensive rating posted last year has tumbled to 103.
Mills has connected on a career-worst 34.6 percent from long range. Nevertheless, for better or worse, Popovich has stuck with the energy-filled Australian, presumably in hopes that Mills will snap out of his slump.
Diaw's offensive contributions have plummeted, though he's slowly started to ratchet it up lately. The point forward's field-goal percentage has fallen from 52.1 to 46.1 and his three-point clip from 40.2 to 32.2.
Belinelli and Aron Baynes round out the unit that's basically been asked to not completely mess up what the starters built.
Now, while San Antonio's key reserves certainly have plenty to improve heading into the postseason, the backups do comprise a better unit than many franchises have. The struggles are not a death sentence. The Spurs just need efficiency—and consistently.
Behind the second unit, Cory Joseph is the biggest end-of-the-bench wild card, since Pop might grow frustrated with someone in the backcourt and throw in the defensive specialist.
Matt Bonner could sneak into a lineup every so often, but Reggie Williams and Jeff Ayres will likely only play in garbage time.
Lastly, if the Spurs recall Kyle Anderson from the D-League, it'll basically only be for environmental experience purposes. This is what the playoffs feel like, kid, now enjoy your front-row seat.
Historically, the Spurs' starters tend to log more minutes during the postseason, and that trend shouldn't change this year.
Parker will likely receive a spike in playing time because he's such a vital component of San Antonio's attack. Leonard will probably occupy more minutes since Popovich will no longer need to rest his elite defender for the future—each game helps decide if the team has a future.
Green has earned a slightly larger role than he had during the 2014 title campaign, while Duncan always plays a little extra during the postseason run, which affects Diaw and Splitter.
Mills, Ginobili, Belinelli and Baynes will be the casualties of increased minutes to their respective starters, taking slightly smaller yet still remarkably important roles.
The following table shows the ideal playoff rotation for San Antonio. Note that the totals add up to more than 240 minutes because every player won't necessarily enter the game each night.
|San Antonio Playoff Minutes Distribution|
|PG||Parker (32)||Mills (14)||Joseph (5)|
|SG||Green (28)||Ginobili (22)||Anderson (1)|
|SF||Leonard (34)||Belinelli (18)||Williams (2)|
|PF||Duncan (32)||Diaw (24)||Ayres (3)|
|C||Splitter (23)||Baynes (15)||Bonner (4)|
|Minutes per game in parentheses|
Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of March 31.
Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.