With the recent injury woes of the San Antonio Spurs being the current hurdle on the team’s journey for a fifth title, fans have slowly become concerned with the Spurs inability to defeat the so called “elite” teams in the NBA. People are quick to forget that the games that actually matter, in the playoffs, are determined by matchups and adjustments throughout a series, not a single game.
Still they play the regular season for a reason in the NBA. Home-court advantage is rewarded to the teams that show the best records throughout the regular season. The Spurs system has produced just one playoff seed in the past 15 seasons that did not have home-court advantage in the first round. Let that sink in for a minute. Each of those years, just like this year, the aspirations and expectations of the team was to bring home a championship.
Injuries have always played a role with past Spurs teams and this has become widely accepted by both the team and fans. The timing of the injuries this season seems to have come at the same time unfortunately. In the month of January the Spurs lost 4 players due to injury including Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili. That’s not even including the broken nose suffered by Matt Bonner or the recent injury in this first week of February by Tony Parker. At least the injuries are occurring before playoff time this year and one can only hope these players can avoid any setbacks before the playoffs begin.
Don’t forget that this same team played deep into the playoffs last season. They basically played to the furthest extent that a team can go, Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It was almost unrealistic to ask this same team, given the age of core pieces, to go this whole season without breaking down. The shock is that it was the young players who were the ones that picked up the freak accidents with the broken hands.
Still as the team sits currently as the second seed in the Western Conference, analysts can only stare at the only weakness this team has shown this season. The inability to beat the top teams in the league has been the knock on them for the majority of the season now. They are currently 17-11 against teams above .500 and 1-11 against Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, Portland, Los Angeles Clippers, and Houston.
With the All-Star break approaching next week, teams will begin to lock in and begin playing like every game matters in order to jockey for playoff positioning. The Spurs usually seem to be the one team whose focus locks in once the playoffs begin. They leave the regular season flexing for all the fake teams who think they have what it takes. Those are the same teams that become overwhelmed by the moment once the playoffs roll around. Right now it’s like everyone is pointing to the scratch on the Bugatti while admiring the paint job on the Kia Optima.
Anybody who knows anything about basketball knows that the Spurs are made for playoff basketball. They also know that the Spurs are susceptible to bad matchups just like any other team in the NBA. One of the best teams in Spurs history in 2006 was pitted with a nightmare matchup against Dallas. That team went 30-13 against above .500 teams. Another one of the best teams in Spurs history, record wise, in 2011 also had a nightmare matchup against Memphis. That team went 26-19 against above .500 teams. The regular season had no bearing on either of those teams. All those games against above .500 teams meant nothing once those series started.
What’s troublesome this year is there are multiple teams that look like bad matchups for the Spurs. Oklahoma City, Portland, and Houston have dominated against the Spurs this season. We already know what Oklahoma City brings to the table with Durant, Westbrook, and their entire squad of Spurs killers. San Antonio still has the playoff experience over Portland and Houston and if you don’t think that matters, just ask Golden State about how that turned out for them last year. Portland and Houston pose serious threats to the Spurs if they were to be matched up solely based on their superstar players. LaMarcus Aldridge for Portland and James Harden for Houston can consistently be unguardable for long stretches against the Spurs. Both teams can easily be bounced if matched up against another team, but if they were to meet up against the Spurs at some point in the playoffs, the matchups would be some of the most difficult the Spurs have ever seen in the playoffs.
Asking this group of players to basically repeat what they did last season in no way was going to be easier. The matchups were favorable heading into the Finals with the only real test coming from Golden State. Once the Spurs took control of that series, they were poised to give the Heat the best shot out of anybody in the NBA. The Spurs are always self-aware and they know what they need to improve on. The Spurs went 10-10 in their last 20 games heading into the playoffs last year. Don’t forget they had to deal with cutting Stephen Jackson just a couple of games before the playoffs started too. I’m not sure if there could be a worst scenario than what they were dealing with heading into the playoffs last year.
So all the “talk” seems too small for Spurs fans to bite into. Of course everybody including players, coaches, and fans want the team to be successful against good teams in order to build their confidence. It seems like a minor problem to have right now given the current state of the team, even though the questions were raised before the injuries occurred. Once the Spurs get right with the injury situation they’re currently in, they will rack up a few wins against these so called “top” teams to ease the minds of the masses. Just don’t think for a second that their season will be defined by if they can beat the top teams in the league during the regular season. Time tells the story for this team time and again and yet it’s constantly ignored.