State of the Spurs: Better equipped this time

The most important thing that happened regarding the San Antonio Spurs this week was their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Maybe earlier in the season blowout losses to Minnesota and Portland would have been worth more consternation and while it’s possible those losses could cost the Spurs the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, all signs point to a Spurs-Thunder conference finals, at which point the seeding becomes irrelevant.

So Monday’s win over the Thunder gave us all a look at how that series might go.

The Spurs exploited a couple of major problems for Oklahoma City. The first is that the Thunder plainly don’t guard the pick-and-roll well. Especially when Kendrick Perkins is in the game, they are slow and indecisive in their coverages, and the Spurs punished them for it even without Tony Parker in the lineup. The Thunder also were reluctant to double-team Tiago Splitter, who burned them for 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Problem No. 2 is that Russell Westbrook – not exactly King Composure in the first place – looks like he can be frustrated by the Spurs’ discipline, and when Westbrook gets frustrated he does things like take 27 shots while Kevin Durant gets 13.

(And this doesn’t even mention Derek Fisher’s defense; he knows he can’t stop drivers anymore so the pullup jumper is there for whomever he’s guarding).

And again, it has to be re-enforced that this all happened without Parker. Obviously the Thunder beat the Spurs last year with Parker in the lineup, overcoming a 2-0 series deficit to win in six. The Spurs, it appeared, got old in a hurry and that’s certainly a possibility again this year.

But if Monday’s game was an indication, the Thunder will need to hope that happens again.

Three Thoughts
1. I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s obvious Gregg Popovich doesn’t care about the No. 1 seed, but he doesn’t exactly seem to be protecting it, does he? He started Cory Joseph, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner against the Timberwolves the other day, resting Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, who both had sore knees. The ensuing loss was San Antonio’s 16th this season, one fewer than Oklahoma City.

2. We’ll start with the concession that when it comes to Dwight Howard, you never really know. But … BUT … if Howard is going to stop playing like a ninny (as it appears he might) the Lakers could cause the Spurs plenty of trouble in the first round. And sure, Kobe Bryant is out “indefinitely,” but this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. Something tells me he’ll pull it together.

This is all assuming the Lakers make the playoffs. So, yeah, we’re making a lot of assumptions here. But still.

3. I don’t believe anything anybody with the Spurs says about Tony Parker’s injury. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that no basketball team I’ve ever seen acts more like a football team than the San Antonio Spurs, and football teams hide information and make misleading statements about injuries as a matter of policy. Unlike in football, there isn’t much of an advantage for a basketball team to do that, but it just seems like something the Spurs would do just for sport.

Who’s Hot:

Tim Duncan. Scoring 28 and playing 36 minutes qualifies as going off for Duncan these days, and he went off for 28 points and 19 rebounds in a one-point win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

Who’s Not:

Matt Bonner. The sharpshooter has scored eight combined points in the Spurs last five games. Bonner only averages four points per game, but he went 1-for-4 for two points in the Spurs loss to Minnesota.

Quotes of the week

“Pick something. Pick it and write it. You saw the game.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on what went wrong for the Spurs in a 107-83 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Aint no1 scared of dem lol knock it off RT@iAmChrisNeal: Spurs trying to avoid us in them playoffs they already know what it is #Lakeshow”

In case you require a translator, that’s Danny Green on Twitter, responding to a Lakers fan who suggested the Spurs don’t want to see L.A. in the playoffs.

What’s next?

Including Thursday’s game against Dallas, seven of the Spurs’ next eight games are at home and they don’t leave the Republic of Texas again until April 1, when they play at Memphis.

That doesn’t mean this is an easy stretch, though. Included in those eight games are matchups against Miami, Golden State, Houston, Utah and the Clippers. This could be the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Tower of Power?

Had it not been for that win over the Thunder, it might have been time to worry about just how good the Spurs were going to be heading into the playoffs. But we’ll take that as an indication that once the playoffs begin the Spurs have as good a shot as anybody this side of Miami.

Gotta stay healthy, though.