Spurs better make most of March with April death jaunt ahead
The Spurs made fairly easy work of the wounded and reeling Trail Blazers on Wednesday, a team that’s given them more regular-season problems than any other during the Tim Duncan era. Unfortunately, the 103-90 win was likely aided by the scary injury to LaMarcus Aldridge — X-Rays negative, thankfully — the guy who burns the AT&T Center to the ground every time he sets foot inside it.
But it was a performance the Spurs have made commonplace since the return of Kawhi Leonard from a broken hand — they’re making things look easy again, regardless of opponent. The offense is flowing like running water, and it’s doing so against defenses like Miami — though they’ve been hit and miss — and Chicago.
And Wednesday was another one of those nights where six people scored in double figures without a single one putting up more than 15 points. Everybody’s passing, everybody’s rebounding, everybody’s defending well and everybody’s pitching in their part of the scoring — it’s become a seamless transition following the roster’s return to full health.
At least that’s what it feels like. Danny Green — who has basically become the resident go-to guy for the “inside info” in the Spurs locker room, if you hadn’t noticed — kind of laughed at the idea or observation of how seemingly easy it’s been for this team to regain such an indestructible level of efficiency so quickly.
“Seemingly easy?” he asked. “I think, it’s taken us three-quarters of a season to get it done.”
And he’s right, it’s taken a while. But you can’t ignore the injury rash that began in early January and didn’t fully subside until early March. Then again, everybody’s looking pretty damn fresh while other teams are beginning to slip around them
“I think the injuries helped us, crazily said,” Green pointed out. “They gave us a chance for some guys to get some rest, to refocus. They also gave some guys a chance to get more confidence and get a rhythm.”
Ya know, that’s not all that crazy. The presence and importance of Gregg Popovich’s system within this franchise has been beaten into our brains over and over and over again; all the players know it front and back (except you Austin Daye, except you) and have been practicing it for years. Or at least what seems like years, in Marco Belinelli’s case.
And in case you’ve failed to notice, the NBA season is stupid long. The concern of a team “peaking” too early is a legitimate one, and the Spurs know that. They’ve been through this ringer for 17 consecutive seasons, so the timing aspect of it all is probably something they’ve got down pat.
Then again every season is different, and as a coach I’m sure Popovich is never done tweaking his style or his habits or his strategies. But he and the Big Three have designed a pretty well-established template from which to work. Whether the Spurs are peaking at this points remains to be seen, I guess. They’re playing damn good basketball though.
During the current eight-game winning streak, San Antonio is beating up on teams by an average of 12.1 points per 100 possessions — a number that would’ve been higher had they not let that giant lead melt away in Chicago, but no harm done — and dropping a true-shooting rate of nearly 60 percent during that stretch, which is best number in the league since Leonard returned. (By the way, true-shooting percentage calculates shooting percentage adjusting for the value of free throws and 3-point field goals. It’s just a better way of describing how efficiently a team is scoring in all different aspects.)
Things look cozy on the horizon, too. If you haven’t seen the Spurs’ schedule for the rest of March, well…
Two of those teams (in bold) have winning records, and another (the Sixers) is just about the damn worst team you’ll ever see play basketball in your life. I think Brett Brown is going to be great, but they’ve basically two NBA players putting in time. Though considering their objective here — to drive a tank straight into the Draft — it’s a thing of horrific beauty. San Antonio will probably deatomize Philadelphia by 12,000 points that night, and that team’s fans will be leading cheers in the streets. I kind of love it.
Anyway, the point being: The Spurs need to make it a point to run roughshod over that schedule, because what awaits them in the always strange NBA month of April does not look all that scrumptious. Take one last look at that March schedule though, and consider this: With the exception of Golden State and Indiana, the eight other teams are a combined 142 games below .500. What an awesome trainwreck this league has been at times.
But, take a breather, because here’s the April schedule for your Spurs:
Oof. But as I mentioned before, San Antonio isn’t going to be the only elite team dealing with a nasty schedule during the last month of the regular season, and April can be really weird sometimes.
With playoffs so rapidly approaching, some teams will be settling into playoff spots while others will be continuing to push for a desired spot; others will be wanting to find some rest for their players (See: San Antonio Spurs); cellar-dwellers will be looking for some satisfaction in hurting or even eliminating playoff-hopeful teams, especially cellar-dwellers with lame-duck coaches who won’t be around the next season and don’t care about tanking for a better draft pick.
I see you, Mike D’Antoni, sitting there bristling your mustache mumbling incomplete sentences. I see you. But seriously, watch that last game on the Spurs’ schedule.
Things are starting to get really good in the NBA. We’re beginning to see which teams look like legitimate contenders, and the playoff teams are starting to establish their positions in the hierarchies of each conference. I’m still not sure what we’re going to see down the stretch — whether teams will opt to ensure health over obtaining the best possible spot in the standings.
I personally don’t believe it when teams say they don’t care about the standings, but that’s just me. I think, especially with as good as the Western Conference is, teams want that home-court advantage if they can get it. Not at the expense of their health, but if a higher spot is within reasonable reach, I feel you’ve got to go for it.
Regardless, this is the best time of the year. For as long as I can remember, the change to warmer weather in Texas as always meant the playoffs are near, a feeling we’ve been lucky to have in San Antonio for more than a decade and a half straight. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I start drooling when the temperature starts reaching the 80s, and that’s something we might not have around here for too much longer — at least at such a high level of certainty. So savor it.
The stretch run is officially here, folks, and the Spurs are playing far and away their best basketball of the season. Now, can they keep it up? There’s still more than a month left until the postseason starts, and still another couple of months after that until an NBA champion is crowned.
The marathon is just a little more than halfway over, and San Antonio has found its runner’s high.