Spurs best in the West


They’re doing it again, those San Antonio Spurs. Perpetually overlooked, underrated, “over the hill” and “boring” in the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan era, San Antonio is atop the Western Conference standings by 1.5 games with the league’s best record (51-16). The Spurs have won 11 straight games, overtaking Oklahoma City for the top seed in the process. While other top teams (OKC, Houston, and Portland) have struggled lately, the Spurs are playing the best basketball in the league.

San Antonio’s record is even more impressive when you consider the original Big Three of Duncan (age 37), Manu Ginobli (36), and Tony Parker (31) each played more minutes than usual last year and are still their top three scorers, which they have been nine of the past ten years. The key this year has again been unselfish team basketball. The Spurs lead the league in assists, and their offense is incredibly balanced. San Antonio has eight players averaging 8.3 points per game or more, and Parker, the leading scorer, (17.6 PPG) is just 32nd in the league in scoring. They have ten players averaging 1.4 assists or better per game, and again Parker leads the team (6.1 APG), but is 15th in the league. This kind of team-oriented, couldn’t-care-less-about-stats style of basketball is rare in the NBA today, but has made the Spurs the team to beat in the West come playoff time.

Other than the Spurs, the Clippers are playing the best of any team in the West. They lost to Denver on Monday night, but before that game had an 11-game win streak of their own, with impressive wins at OKC, at Phoenix, and at home versus Houston and Golden State. The Clips are now only 2.5 games behind the Thunder for the second seed, and no one wants to play them in the postseason. It also appears J.J. Redick will come back from a seven-week back injury and play Saturday against the Pistons. Usually, getting your best outside shooter back is a great thing, but I’m not so sure in Redick’s case. It seems like the Clippers are used to their four-man backcourt rotation of Chris Paul, Willie Green, Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison. This has been the rotation during Lob City’s best stretch of the year, and bringing Redick back gives them a crowded backcourt, and may mess with the chemistry LA was developing.

There are surprisingly few quality games coming up next week. There have usually been at least six or seven important matchups, but this time there are only three: San Antonio at Golden State on Saturday; Oklahoma City at Dallas on Tuesday; and LA Clippers at Dallas on Thursday. Those two home games are crucial for Dallas, which is only 1.5 games ahead of Phoenix for the final playoff spot, and could give the Mavs some confidence against the top teams come playoff time.