While you were scrutinizing the Heat, fawning over the Lakers, begrudgingly respecting the Celtics and jumping on the Hornets bandwagon, the Spurs snuck into the “Best Team in the NBA” conversation like the hooded dude from Assassin’s Creed.
Last night’s come-from-behind win over the Bulls on national TV, their eight W in a row, improved the Spurs’ record to 9-1. It was also the fourth time in the last six games where Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili scored at least 20 points apiece as a starting backcourt.
While Tim Duncan is still the Spurs’ coach on the floor and still a go-to guy in crunch time, Parker (18.6 ppg, 7.6 apg) and Ginobili (21.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) have been the team’s co-MVP’s this season. Previously written off as aging and disintegrating following an unprecedented first-round playoff exit in 2009 and a surprising four-game sweep at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in the 2010 conference semis, Parker and Ginobili look better than ever, and are the best backcourt in the NBA right now. The Top 10…
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1. TONY PARKER & MANU GINOBILI, Spurs — They’ve won three NBA championships together, and this year are carrying the offensive load for the best-executing offense in the League while Duncan has his minutes managed. They’re both proven crunch-time performers, and individually, TP and Manu are among the best players in the NBA at getting to the rim and finishing.
2. RAJON RONDO & RAY ALLEN, Celtics — Rondo has put himself in the MVP discussion by putting is teammates in easy positions to score (14.9 apg, 10.9 ppg, 2.6 spg). Ray is still a laser show beyond the arc, hitting 45 percent of his threes while averaging 18.1 points per game.
3. ANDRE MILLER & BRANDON ROY, Trail Blazers
— You really have to watch the Blazers to realize how good they are. Roy (18.1 ppg) has been trying to hold it together despite knee problems, while Miller (13.7 ppg, 7.8 apg) has become a subtle fourth-quarter killer by making plays all over the court in crunch time.
4. STEPHEN CURRY & MONTA ELLIS, Warriors — Contrast to Portland’s backcourt: You simply have to look at the numbers here. Although Monta (26.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.5 spg) will challenge for the NBA’s scoring title, he’s been unfairly pegged as a one-note scorer when he actually fills the stat sheet. Along with Curry (19.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg), he is part of a backcourt who is so explosive offensively that they can cover their size/strength deficiencies on the defensive end.
5. DEREK FISHER & KOBE BRYANT, Lakers — Say what you want about Fisher’s on-ball defense (which is bad) and tendency to jack shots at curious times (which is aggravating), but the man does have five championship rings, and as a clutch shooter has played a major role in filling his hand with diamonds. Fisher is scoring 8.3 points per game this season and hitting 60 percent of his threes. Oh, and Kobe is aiight (26.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.0 apg).
6. STEVE NASH & JASON RICHARDSON, Suns — The slightly slowed-down, veteran version of Monta and Curry, Nash and J-Rich’s offensive abilities far outweigh their defense. Richardson is leading the Suns in scoring (20.3 ppg) and leading the NBA in made three-pointers (31), while Nash (19.3 ppg, 8.9 apg) is adapting to handling more of a scorer’s role.
7. RUSSELL WESTBROOK & THABO SEFOLOSHA, Thunder — Westbrook’s offense (23.3 ppg, 8.1 apg, 2.0 spg) complements Thabo’s defense. Or vice versa. They’d rank higher is Thabo didn’t seem afraid to shoot the ball half the time.
8. CHRIS PAUL & MARCO BELINELLI, Hornets — Maybe you could plug any two-guard next to CP3 (17.8 ppg, 10.2 apg, 2.5 spg) right now and he’d look like a star. Or maybe Belinelli (12 ppg, 44% 3PA) was just under-used in his previous NBA stops. Either way, Belinelli is playing with a ton of confidence and Paul is playing like Isiah Thomas.
9. JAMEER NELSON & VINCE CARTER, Magic — Jameer (14.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) gets lost in the shuffle of elite point guards who have more talent, but few are tougher and more tenacious than Orlando’s floor leader. Vince (15.2 ppg, 45% 3PA) obviously isn’t the player he used to be, but he gets too much criticism considering he’s still very good.
10. MIKE BIBBY & JOE JOHNSON, Hawks — Once Johnson (19.2 ppg, 5.1 apg) gets his three-point stroke corrected (26% 3PA), he’ll hit his usual 20-ppg mark. Bibby was supposed to lose his job to second-year PG Jeff Teague this year, but he’s knocked down enough shots (10.3 ppg) and run the offense well enough to keep the kid at bay.
Honorable mention — Carlos Arroyo/Dwyane Wade (Heat), Brandon Jennings/John Salmons (Bucks), Aaron Brooks/Kevin Martin (Rockets), John Wall/Gilbert Arenas (Wizards), Jason Kidd/Caron Butler (Mavericks).