Playing the long game is one massive reason why the San Antonio Spurs have been the NBA’s most consistent performers over an 18-year spell that coincided with Tim Duncan’s arrival. But are the defending champions still a realistic bet for the title when results have been resolutely up and down?
Currently seventh in the Western Conference, the Spurs have enough of a lead over the chasing pack that their place in the playoffs should be in no realistic doubt.
Yet that is the time of year where they have always aimed to hit their peak, the reason why key players are given nights off and minutes shared to ensure they approach April with a spring in their step.
Coach Gregg Popovich always advised that his team’s greatest opponent this term might be themselves, and an inevitable drop in desire following the fifth championship of the Duncan era last June. There are other troubling signs that San Antonio’s NBA record streak of 15 50-win seasons might not be extended by one.
Over the opening spell of the campaign, injuries to key role players Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter robbed the Spurs of some depth and then knocks to Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard took some wind from their sails. Now that almost everyone is healthy, it is time to step up and prove their case, especially with an extended homestand in the works.
Their offense has been stuttering badly. Tony Parker’s scoring average of 13.9 is the lowest since his rookie year in the NBA while his team are only 13th in offensive efficiency in putting up 100.8 points per night.
After three blow-out victories, they continue a six-game homestand on Friday against the Denver Nuggets before Chicago come to San Antonio on Sunday. Have a look at the Spurs at -6.5 on the handicap against the Bulls. But unless they show signs of real life in the weeks ahead, it may be time to claim that Popovich’s old dogs – now at 8.00 for the title – have definitively passed their prime.
Cleveland at Atlanta
Let’s call Friday’s clash between the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers a dress rehearsal for the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Hawks can go 12-10 over the remainder of the regular season and still get top seeding in the East but this is a statement contest, even with Cleveland some 10 1/2 games behind.
And even with the Cavs catching fire, look at Atlanta on the handicap of -2.5 at 2.20 to make it six wins in a row.
Best bet: Go over 208.5 points in San Antonio – Denver at 2.23