State of the Spurs: Just getting started

They say the NBA is a player’s league, and that does seem to be generally true, but things are a little different in San Antonio. In San Antonio, Gregg Popovich can go full “college football coach” on his team and have it actually work.

Popovich recently has been mad about the Spurs’ defense, so the last couple days he basically called everybody into the practice gym and locked the doors for a couple hours, during which he presumably did Grouchy Pop things and got across his point.

Then on Wednesday the Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors 104-93, and Grouchy Pop turned into Less Grouchy Pop.

“I thought it was the best defense we’ve played in a couple weeks,” he told the San Antonio Express News.

It was a good night for the Spurs, who are showing some signs of kicking this baby into high gear. Because of the way the Spurs are constructed — a mix of old and young — they have to kind of build up to this, pacing the old guys while preparing the young ones. You’re not gonna get Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame game every night, but Duncan got 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks against the Warriors as he rounds into playoff form. Duncan is averaging 27.7 points over the last week. Also, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to Memphis on Wednesday.

And after a couple rough days in San Antonio, the Spurs admitted they were starting to have a little more fun. But just starting.

“We’re starting to again,” guard Danny Green said. “It’s hard to have fun when you aren’t playing up to your potential. We know where we want to be come playoff time, and we aren’t there yet.”

Three thoughts
1. The Spurs last week became the first NBA team to win at least 50 games 14 years in a row, prompting “Forbes Magazine” to declare the Spurs the best-run franchise in American professional sports. San Antonio has averaged 55 wins per season since 1997 (with a winning percentage of .707) and that includes two seasons shortened by labor strife. According to Forbes, the franchise has quadrupled in value since Peter Holt bought the team for $76 million in 1996 ($113 million in today’s dollars). Forbes values the Spurs at $527 million.

2. Earlier this week, ESPN Insider posted a story describing the Spurs as the “luckiest” team in the NBA. This was based on some statistical metrics designed to calculate whether a team was really as good as its record made it appear to be. The conclusion was that the Spurs have won nine more games than they should have. This is obviously ridiculous. It’s not like the sample size it too small at this point. The Spurs have won exactly as many games as they ought to have won, or else they would not have won them. Here’s a crazy thought: Maybe there isn’t something wrong with the universe (“luck”) maybe there’s something wrong with your metrics. You make up a predictive formula, and when it turns out to be wrong, you blame some invisible hand? Ok.

3.  Tim Duncan says his jumper doesn’t “feel” good, even though he’s been shooting quite well lately. I suppose this is the way the Basketball Gods make up for those times when you just know you’re stroking it, but it keeps catching a little sliver of the rim and bouncing out.

Quotes of the week

“My go-to is ‘The Ninja,’ straight up and down. But when I get excited, I pull out ‘The Chopper’ or ‘The Propeller.'”

Guard Patty Mills, to the San Antonio Express News, describing his towel-waving techniques. Mills has become something of a sideshow with his towel-waving from the bench.

“All these people come rushing in the tent, just rushing at me,” Popovich said, laughing. “They were congratulating me like I had done something.  And I didn’t do anything but eat a burger and they were rushing me telling me what a good job I had done.”

–  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to, on the moment he realized the Spurs were going to be able to draft Tim Duncan. recently did a retrospective on Popovich, who is nearing 900 wins.

What’s next?

The Spurs are in the middle of one of their toughest stretches of the season. Their next five games are against Utah, Houston, Denver, the Clippers and Miami. The good news is, four of those games are in San Antonio, including the March 31 matchup against the Heat.

Who’s hot, who’s not

Hot: Tim Duncan
Duncan is shooting 64 percent from the field and averaging 27.7 points over the last three games.

Not: DeJuan Blair
Blair has scored a total of six points in San Antonio’s last five games and he’s only played more than seven minutes once in that time.

Tower of power

As usual, there is some doubt as to whether the Spurs are the best team in the Western Conference even though they have won the most games. But outside of Miami, it’s tough to identify any team that is definitely better than the Spurs.