Defy the odds … the Spurs way?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Spurs just keep on chugging along, 14 straight and counting …

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trying to identify the specific reasons for the San Antonio Spurs’ sustained excellence for the better part of the past two decades requires vision clear enough to notice that living legend of a big man sitting quietly in whatever corner of the locker room he occupies on a given night.

Yes, Tim Duncan was, is and remains the secret to the Spurs’ success formula. You have to start with superstars in the NBA. Toss in a Hall of Fame coach (Gregg Popovich), a couple more superstar players (in their own right) and a steady cast of young and veteran role players willing to sacrifice for the greater good and it’s not hard to fathom a well-run franchise putting together years and years of quality, championship-caliber production.

No one, not even the Los Angeles Lakers, have been as consistently good (and some folks would insist “great”) as the Spurs have been during the Duncan era. And yet, they have never been to The Finals in back-to-back years. Might this be the year that the Spurs defy those odds?

I say why not? This has been a strange season all around, what with the Eastern Conference depression in the standings and musical chairs being played by contenders by the supposed contenders all year-long. My sparring partner on almost every debatable topic, NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, has his own theory and weighs in on the Spurs and the “Spurs’ Way” …

Since Tim Duncan was introduced to the NBA (1997-98), the San Antonio Spurs have compiled a 959-439 record (68.6%), best in the league over that span. It should come as no surprise that Monday night the Spurs extended the Philadelphia 76ers franchise worst losing record to 25 games. If the defending Western Conference Champs can continue their winning ways, they too will establish a franchise first, reaching the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons.

​At 54-16, the Spurs have eclipsed the 50-win plateau for the 15th consecutive season, but their current 14-game win streak is the longest in the Duncan era. Coincidence? Possibly, but the difference between this season and the previous four following a finals appearance was the painful defeat the Spurs suffered last June. As a result, there seems to be a “3-M” plan put in place: Motivation, Maintenance and Man Power. As shown below, the Spurs are really good following a Finals appearance. But the Game 7 loss may serve as added motivation separating this season from others.

Season Following Finals​Longest Winning Streak
​1999-2000​ — 7
​2003-2004​ — 13
​2005-2006​ — 9
​2007-2008​ ​ — 11
​2013-2014​ — 14 (and counting)

​It’s commonplace to turn on a Spurs game and identify a San Antonio reserve being placed in the starting lineup due to their internal maintenance plan. Many teams implore this practice to monitor the health and recovery of star players battling injuries, the Spurs are simply keeping players fresh for a deep postseason run. Regardless of the opponent or venue, when Popovich decides to rest one of his future Hall-of-Famers, the next man is expected to step in and perform at a high level.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks after his team’s 14th straight win

The youngest of the team’s “Big 3″, Tony Parker, leads the Spurs in minutes per game with a mere 30.3 minutes. Parker’s average is the fewest by any player in the NBA to lead his team in minutes. Last season many believed Manu Ginobili‘s proverbial tank ran low during the Finals, but as the table reads that shouldn’t be an issue this time around.

Spurs Minute-Men (mpg)
Tony Parker ​(30.3)
Tim Duncan ​(29.4)
Kawhi Leonard ​(29.1)
Marco Belinelli ​(25.1)
Boris Diaw ​ (25.1)
Danny Green ​ (24.2)
Manu Ginobili ​ (23.0)

​Another striking difference for this Spurs team is that they are hunters following a Finals appearance as opposed to being the hunted. The league has been controlled by the Miami Heat since LeBron James‘s big decision and with the last two titles comfortably resting in South Florida. In short, the Heatles are still the leagues measuring stick.

Since the All-star break, though, San Antonio has been a team on a mission, boasting a 16-1 record and winning their last 14 games by an average of 15.7 points. Again that’s a sign of motivation because the Spurs are not only defeating the Sixers of the NBA world, but they’ve defeated the Clippers and Heat in the midst of this historic win streak. The credit can’t be placed solely on a maintenance plan and motivation but the added man power supplied by their front office.

The Spurs most notable addition being Marco Belinelli (2014 Three-Point Contest Winner) who’s currently fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (43.8 %). Along with Belinelli, the Spurs second unit is loaded with Jeff Ayres who’s added quality depth in the front court along with Patty Mills that has scored in bunches throughout the year in Parker’s absence. Even NBA journeyman Austin Daye has shown flashes leading the team with 22 point (6-for-10 from deep) against the 76ers Monday night.

​The Spurs are on pace to surpass their win total (58) from last season. Yet, they won’t garner the national attention due to their 15 consecutive 50-win seasons. Some complain about their style of play, others claim they’re getting old but in the end they find a way to win games. Go ahead, call it boring, black and white or even the “Spurs way” but after coming up short in Miami during last year’s Finals, San Antonio seems motivated to be called NBA Champions for a fifth time.

All that said, I maintain the one other underlying factor working in the Spurs’ favor for back-to-back trips to The Finals is that they weren’t expected to get their last season. Before Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook went down with that knee injury against the Houston Rockets, that was the crew picked by most pundits to win the West.

The Spurs making the 2013 Finals was a surprise, to most folks, and the Spurs don’t do surprises.

There is no guarantee they make it this time around. There are no guarantees for the Spurs, Heat, Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers or anyone else deemed a contender at this stage of the season. But of all of the teams of that ilk, the Spurs are the only ones heading into the playoffs that actually look the part of a true champion on a nightly basis.

That alone leads me to believe that they just might have a chance to defy the odds … doing it the Spurs Way!


VIDEO: Tim Duncan waxes on the Spurs and their streak

9 Comments

  1. okc2014 says:

    I like Patty Mills and Kwai Leonard. Everyone else is boring to me. But they are deadly in the playoffs. I’m scared for OKC.

  2. TRU says:

    Knew Leonard was going to be a star in the league and great that he can learn behind the veteran crew that the Spurs have

  3. Caution! Robot says:

    Another unique advantage: their humble, low key approach along with not having won a title in years leaves no team capable of building much of a rage against them – even after they are beaten opponents typically express genuine respect for the machine.

  4. JM says:

    Let the playoffs begin!

  5. Carlo says:

    I think the main strategic difference is that any other NBA team tries to win each and every single match by playing their best players, night in & night out, hoping they don’t break. If and when one breaks, then a reserve player has to step in, wether he’s ready or not (which means he has never been given starting five responsibility, etc.) Sometimes you’re lucky and it works and you may even discover a new star. Most times it doesn’t.
    Spurs have a different, opposite strategy, which doesn’t earns rewards by the “showtime fans” or even the self-appointed “expert” media. Their strategy is to win the SEASON, regardless of single games results. They know this is even more important ’cause they have an ageing group of stars but the important point is this: plan ahead, run your players on a scheduled routine of MPG’s.
    This brings not just one but TWO big advantages:
    1) You have better chances to keep your best players healthy throughout the season and through the playoffs.
    2) A lot of “second level” players MUST adapt to “starter” role and MPG, which means there’s less risk of being stranded by a sudden accident (loss of a star) AND having a far longer and stronger bench even in the playoffs.

  6. ben says:

    if you like team basketball, it’s actually nice to watch the spurs play..
    their offensive plays and patterns also their unshelfisness is fun to watch

  7. paul murray says:

    There is a simple reason the Spurs get overlooked. They do not play star ball. They don’t trash talk and they don’t complain. They are a team team and that is not what the media wants and it is sadly not what the fans want. Of course, they are a small market team which does not help. As someone said, the Spurs play basketball for adults. Most fans could easily switch to hockey for all their knowledge of the sport. To be fair that is true of most of the writers as well.

  8. David says:

    Marco Belineli is the biggest improvement for the Spurs. Jeff Ayers really has not added quality, but he’s another big body to hold the fort for a few minutes.

    The entire cast is much improved, particularly Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard.

  9. dustydreamnz says:

    People keep saying they’re defying the odds…
    They have to be hard to beat this season because they should have won it last year and their squad if anything is stronger this year with Mills a better player and the addition of Bellinelli.