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San Antonio Spurs: Still No. 1 in the West

There is very little that’s exciting about the San Antonio Spurs, at least to casual basketball fans. Manu Ginobli is a dynamic offensive player when healthy, and Tony Parker possesses a little razzle-dazzle, but for the most part their basketball philosophy is predicated on shooting corner threes, playing solid defense and generally sacrificing for the greater good of the team. That’s not exactly as pulse-pounding as a LeBron James and Dwayne Wade fast break, no? Still, the Spurs find themselves in their typical position of dominance, holding the No. 1-overall seed in the Western Conference with a record of 39-11.

Indeed, the Spurs are currently ripping off one of their trademark regular season hot streaks, winning 11 straight games before Friday night’s loss against the Pistons. Against Minnesota on Wednesday in a 104-94 win, San Antonio’s role players stepped up big, with Danny Green scoring 28 points and Kawhi Leonard scoring 19 points and grabbing ten boards.

“I think they do have a confidence level. The system doesn’t change when guys are out,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “If Tony was out, somebody else would play. We just run the same stuff; we don’t change anything. I think they’re pretty used to the execution no matter who’s on the court. Obviously you’ve got to make shots, and Danny and Kawhi were pretty good at that tonight.”

San Antonio’s arguable best player, Tony Parker, also scored 31 points in the game. Despite missing two stars, Tim Duncan and Ginobli, for an extended period of time, the Spurs continue to simply win. As is the story every year with this team around this time of the season, questions are starting to be asked by media members about why no one appreciates the Spurs’ longtime dominance and brilliance. The clichéd explanation is to blame their conservative style of play, though this too is incorrect: anyone who watched them last year during the playoffs knows they abandoned the “throw it to Duncan in the post every time down the floor” offense two or three years ago. Instead, the Spurs are now one of the most dynamic teams in the league, built on a European-style philosophy of quick cuts, three-pointers and dynamic passing. Casual fans may dismiss the Spurs as boring, but what they’re really dismissing is the San Antonio teams of the mid-2000s. The current variety is far more electric than many imagine, even without two of their best players in the lineup.

“Timmy’s missed four, five games in a row, Manu’s been in and out of the lineup, so we’ve gotten used to playing without them,” Parker said. “Obviously I’d rather have them because it would be a lot easier to have Timmy and Manu, but it definitely helps the other guys.”

The Spurs are first in the entire NBA in assists per game, and fourth in points per game, so they are a bit more fun to watch than they’re given credit for. However, they have shown a propensity to flame out in the postseason for the past several years. They were a few unlucky breaks away from appearing in the NBA Finals last season, but the Thunder are just as hungry as they were then with another year of seasoning to boot. They may face an uphill battle in the West, but don’t be surprised if you see a rematch in the Western Conference Finals. Their odds to win the West are 2-1, the same as the Oklahoma City Thunder, while their odds to win the title are 5-1, third-best in the NBA. With a team this good, that’s a value bet no matter how you slice it.

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