Spring and Spurs are back in the air

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bill Land and Sean Elliott chat about the Spurs’ streak of 15 straight 50-win seasons.

It happens every year. After all the wind and sleet, the snow drifts and frozen highways, the crippling storms and blinding blizzards, spring arrives.

So do the Spurs.

The Heat cool off, the Pacers wobble and the Thunder roll in and out. But the Spurs simply hum. Electricity through a power line.

Every year they’re supposed to get older. Every season they seem only to get wiser. And better. About managing their minutes. About healing their aches and pains. About avoiding the lows and managing the highs.

The Spurs stepped on the necks of the Lakers on Wednesday night, for the second time inside of a week, pushing their win streak to 11 in a row, their longest of the season, heading into Friday night’s game at Sacramento (10 ET, League Pass).

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

They are 13-1 since the All-Star break and have extended their NBA-record streak of 50-win seasons to a mind-numbing 15 in a row. The Spurs even won 50 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing 50-16.That is the real March Madness.

So while Phil Jackson gobbles up the headlines in New York, the Spurs keep their heads down and chins up. And now look who’s sitting on top of the standings with the best overall record in the league, 1 1/2 games up on slumping Indiana.

All of which is as surprising to coach Gregg Popovich as gravity.

“That’s what we usually do, right?” Popovich told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News. “Historically, we’ve always tried to play our best ball after the All-Star break. This year it also coincided with everybody getting healthy, but we’ve done that before. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be the last team standing, but it’s what we usually try to strive for.”

It’s been a habit for nearly a decade to write off the Spurs. That seemed valid after they let the 2013 championship slip through their fingers in those final 24 seconds of Game 6 in Miami. The players have acknowledged that it’s still kicking around in the back corners of their minds. Popovich admits that it rides like an 800-pound gorilla on his back every day. Yet they don’t let it chase them into dark corners each time they step out onto the court.

That ability to stay in the present has been constructed from those 15 consecutive years of 50-win excellence.

“It’s better than losing 50 I guess,” Popovich said, “but we are thinking about other things. We’ve just had a great group of guys for a long time, I guess, and that is the reason we have been able to win. Records and that sort of thing, streaks, aren’t really on anybody’s mind.”

What’s on their mind is getting back to The Finals, though not with a sense of vengeance or redemption. It’s the only goal that matters.

These Spurs are deeper, more balanced, just plain better than a year ago. They have nine different players averaging between 17.6 (Tony Parker) and 8.3 (Tiago Splitter) points per game. There are eight players with a Player Efficiency Rating — ranging from 21.3 (Tim Duncan) to 15.2 (Marco Belinelli) — above the weighted average of 15.0. They have a deep bench led by Manu Ginobili, who is back to his former Sixth Man of the Year level,  and a corporate knowledge that allows them to assimilate new pieces into the mix easily.

Belinelli has been a perfect addition, hitting career highs in shooting percentage, rebounding and, soon, assists. Patty Mills has stepped into Gary Neal’s old backcourt role off the bench and has been at times a distributor, a spark plug and a basket filler. Over the past month or so, Boris Diaw has virtually turned back the clock years to his old Phoenix days.

All that comes on top of the continued under-the-radar growth of Kawhi Leonard, who can attack the basket, pull up and stab in shots from the perimeter, completely disrupt passing lanes with his long arms on defense and barely bat an eye or show a twitch of emotion when he puts the wraps on the likes of LeBron James.

There was a time earlier this season when the Spurs were 1-10 against all of the top level playoff contenders and yet there were no team meetings (a la the Pacers) and no talk of being in “uncharted territory” (the Heat).

When they embarked on their annual Rodeo Road Trip, starting shooting guard Danny Green was just coming back from an injured wrist. During the trip, seven other players missed games due to injury or, in the case of Parker, overall aches and pains. Yet they still came home 6-3. Since then, they haven’t lost a game.

“We stuck with it,” said Duncan. “Through ups and downs, we try to play as steady as we can. It helps that we’re back to full strength. We have all the guys out there. We’re starting to, I think, turn that corner.”

An annual rite of spring.

18 Comments

  1. Hunter says:

    God bless the Spurs. May they win one more ring after that devastating finals loss last year.

  2. carlos51971 says:

    The boring spurs okc 2014? How many championships does your team have? Shhhhhhh

  3. carlos51971 says:

    Your funny okc 2014. How many championships does your team have??

  4. okc2014 says:

    This team barely has a heartbeat but they always manage to stay on top; the boring Spurs.

  5. Todd says:

    The loss last year was perfect: perfect in setting an example to us all of how to keep it cool in the face of devastation. Following the Spurs over the years we have all been through spiritual training in the art of equanimity and reaching inside for the stamina to be so. Gods drama and gift to those in tune to the inner story. Thanks and Praise.

  6. marty says:

    U gotta respect these guys.A model of consistency..Are they peaking to early ?

  7. what? says:

    the spurs are a well built team. but if i were to name any bad move, i’d say giving up scola. he would’ve been a better player than he is if he had played under popovich. it would have been nice to see him play alongside ginobili and oberto for that argentine connection. he also would’ve added more offense upfront.

  8. Anonymous says:

    This happens almost every year, where the Spurs do great in the regular season but not as productive in the playoffs. Last season was the last chance for them to win but they blew the chance away. These guys may even end up winning 60 games this season but they won’t win this year. But Greg Popovich deserves COY, hands down.

    • MrLeche says:

      Not as productive in the playoffs? The Spurs never missed the playoffs for 15 years, Are you freakin’ kidding me? Maybe your team gets productive in the playoffs uh, when they get lucky get into it for a year or two. XD

  9. Nick says:

    Greg Popovich is the coach of the last decade! If more owners created the same type of environment for their franchises there would be more teams like the Spurs. But what am I thinking? Honestly, a team where the COACH is in charge, not the players or a “franchise player”, and most importantly – not the owner? Forgive me, I lost my head for a minute!

  10. Zvika Aharony says:

    I thing Greg Popovich is THE best coach ever. No one can fully comprehend what he has done and continue doing.

  11. danilovboas says:

    Love my Spurs!

  12. patrickmarc says:

    Greg Popovich coaching is great,
    those players who come from Caraïbes,Argentina, France, USA, Italy,
    are so different, but they look very close,
    you see them run together, nothing special, but they make it perfectly well.
    Popovich did(is doing) a great job.
    The man who decided to have these players
    and coach in S. A. did a perfect job too !

  13. Antone says:

    I Agree! Popovich should be named Coach of the Year and last decade if possible.
    This season especially for coming out on top of the western conference, another 50 wins season, and at this point a healthy and poised first place team that had to over come those injuries. What other coach in the league or any sports franchise could pull that off? No one! In Pop they trust as they say but I really think it’s that Pop has instilled in them trust among the team. He may have had two or three players out with injuries but called out others to take their place, step up, play your/our game and we’ll be okay. They play through! They don’t panic, they are patient, and even though all the coverage, all the attention, all of the media is wrapped up in the King James hype, the Kobe drama, the Zen factor in the big apple, when the smoke clears and dust settles, and the playoffs are here, It’s Popovich, the big three, and that outstanding Spurs team that flies consistently off the radar that suddenly everyone finds themselves behind. The road to the playoffs and most of the time a championship so often goes through San Antonio. For at least four times in the last 15 years, that road has circled right back to S.A..

  14. The Man In Black says:

    You need to do a better job of PROMOTING the NBA’s best TEAM. I say TEAM, as in collection of players. They don’t have the overall best player, they don’t have a position where one can say that this player is the best at his position, what they do is they play best TOGETHER thanks to the work by Pop and His Coaches and Front Office.

    C’mon NBA, tell your CHANNEL PARTNERS to start speaking about why it’s postive to PROMOTE THE SPURS.

    Go SPURS Go!

    • Dew says:

      Umm..Tim Duncan is the best PF to play the game and is 5th in MAP ladder atm. They do have that guy who is the best and still able to dominate a game time to time. Sure more nowadays they play more team ball with Parker running the show. TP and Timmy remind me of Magic and Kareem.

  15. Nay says:

    Many think Greg Popovich should be the Coach of the Year for his ability to lead his troops through an injury-prone season. Do you agree? More here: http://thenaykedtruth.blogspot.com/2014/03/looking-forward-regular-season-awards.html

    • Phyllis says:

      Pop will always be coach of the year in my mind. At least the Spurs have the sense to keep a good thing. Thanks RC Buford and Peter Holt.