Defining Moment? Expect losses and growth, not answers
Tangible growth versus inflated success, which of these holds more truth in the Spurs early NBA-leading 26-4 record?
Even the most optimistic Spurs fan, and Iâ€™ve been among the most optimistic of analysts, realizes that the San Antonio Spurs scorching start has been buttressed by a soft schedule (20th in the league) and facing opponents at opportune times.
Yes, Richard Jefferson has improved in year two. Tony Parker is healthy. And the Spurs, who would have improved drastically had they just replaced last seasonâ€™s versions of Roger Mason jr. and Keith Bogans with replacement level players, have unearthed a gem in Gary Neal and possibly James Anderson.
But how improved are they against elite teams? As badly as many would like to point to the next five gamesâ€”all against playoff teamsâ€”to legitimize the Spurs standing, unless this stretch swings into one extreme or another, the next two weeks will likely have little bearing on where this team stands come Spring.
At this time a year ago, everyone was ready to blow this thing up, even as statisticians pointed to the Spurs healthy margin of victory and beast of a record against inferior opponents as signs that the team had not fallen off as far as it appeared. Everything had seemingly gone wrong then just as everything is seemingly falling right now.
But realize, even though a good measure of improvement is legitimate, the Spurs are merely doing what they did a year agoâ€”feasting on inferior opponents.
The Spurs will lose a few of these, even possibly tonightâ€”itâ€™s hard to imagine the Lakers putting up back-to-back lethargic performances against quality opponents. No one expects this team to continue at a pace that would challenge the Chicago Bulls 72-win record, not even head coach Gregg Popovich, as Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News points out:
The 25-4 record may be a comfort to fans, but Popovich sounds a warning about relying on early success as a guarantor of preferred playoff positioning.
â€œThatâ€™s a dangerous thought,â€ Popovich said. â€œIf our players look at it as a cushion, mentally that can become a quagmire. You think youâ€™re in such good shape, subconsciously your energy level and concentration drops, which leads to problems with execution, that kind of thing.
â€œI donâ€™t want to look at it like that at all. I want to look at it more like we havenâ€™t accomplished anything, because itâ€™s still the regular season, and weâ€™re still such an average, at best, defensive team.â€
Just because the Spurs are off to a blazing start, does not mean there is not room for growth. Those 72-win Chicago Bulls were world beaters, something no one claims these Spurs to beâ€”yet.
Losses, unwanted as they may be, would probably be welcomed by this staff if only to provide teaching tools and perspective.
Tonightâ€™s game is an interesting watch if only for its irrelevance. The Lakers and Spurs perhaps have more room for potential growth this season than any other elite team and will not face each other in the playoffs as the teams that meet tonight.
The Spurs would improve even if all they did was gradually reduce the minutes restraints placed on their best players as the season wore on, but they are also sitting on a potential defensive force in Tiago Splitter, deploying Antonio McDyess as a secret weapon as needed, and awaiting more depth on the wings in James Anderson.
So realize how miniscule the difference is between 2-3 and 3-2, and whichever side of the record the Spurs fall on after this week will not make them champs or frauds.