Spurs steamroll into West semis on 14-game streak

No early playoff collapse this time. No skeptics doubting

whether they’re really the caliber of a No. 1 seed. No injuries to

overcome.

Not a single loss in the last month.

By practically any standard, the San Antonio Spurs are

dominating and doing so at a pace that few NBA teams have sustained

into the playoffs, returning home Tuesday with a 14-game winning

streak after sweeping Utah in the most lopsided series yet this

postseason.

”You know what?” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said before leaving

Salt Lake City, ”We got a team here.”

San Antonio finished off the Jazz on Monday night, and could

have as long as a week to rest before starting the Western

Conference semifinals against either Memphis or the Los Angeles

Clippers. The Clippers lead that series 3-1 and get their first

crack at advancing Wednesday. If Memphis hangs on to the brink, the

Spurs may not host Game 1 until next Tuesday.

Here’s what the Spurs can reflect upon in the meantime: They

haven’t lost since April 9, and since then, they’re winning by an

average margin of 17 points. The NBA’s running punch line for being

too old and frail – a worn-out joke that’s now a misnomer, really –

is now one of only six teams since 1986 to maintain an overall

winning streak this long in the playoffs.

It’s almost enough to make the Spurs feel confident returning to

the second round, particularly after not even surviving the first

last year despite being the No. 1 seed then, too.

Almost enough, anyway.

”As usual,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said about the next

series, ”scared to death.”

Popovich knows history is maybe the only thing the Spurs don’t

have going for them. As invincible as San Antonio has looked for

the past month, Popovich has helmed an even hotter team in the

postseason – only to lose in the West semifinals, exactly where

these Spurs are headed next.

That was in 2004, when the Spurs finished the regular season on

an 11-game tear, followed by six mostly blow-out wins to start the

playoffs. But that 17-game winning streak came to a screeching halt

by Game 3 of the second round against the Lakers, who won the next

four on their way to the NBA finals.

Just as they remain eight years later, Duncan, Tony Parker and

Manu Ginobili were all the leading scorers on that 2004 team.

Ginobili, at the time, was left afterward sorting out the

difference between ”failure and disappointment.”

After closing out the Jazz 87-81 on Monday – only the third time

in the past month the Spurs haven’t won by double-digits – Ginobili

struck a tone of cautious optimism.

”We had great additions late in the season to make us even

better. Our defense is slowly improving,” Ginobili said. ”I think

we are a little better, but the league is so tough. Anybody can

beat the other team.”

Few know that better than the Spurs. Blowing out Utah helped

them exorcise any lingering demons from Memphis stomping out their

61-win season in the first round last year. Proclaiming the demise

of the four-time champion Spurs has become a tradition since their

last title in 2007, and the death rattle never sounded louder than

following that humbling exit to the Grizzlies.

Whether the next round brings a rematch with Memphis or a date

with the Clippers, the Spurs were a combined 7-1 this season

against both. The only loss was to the Clippers at home in March,

when Parker didn’t play because of a sore thigh.

No injuries are shackling the Spurs this time.

No guarantees, either.

”We didn’t accomplish anything. We just passed the first

round,” Parker said. ”We can be happy, but tomorrow is a new day,

and it’s going to be even harder.”