The 2012 San Antonio Spurs and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers are, and were, Teams of Mass Destruction in the playoffs. Each was forged together by a legendary coach into a unit more befitting a Skilsaw than a “team” in the normal sense, because their accomplishments â€” and in the case of the Spurs, it’s a work in progress â€” have been staggering and disturbingly efficient.
The Lakers of that season won 11 straight playoff games, sweeping their way through three series to the finals. Portland (3-0), Sacramento (4-0) and yes, San Antonio (4-0), all were made to look like JV squads against the Lakers. One loss to the 76ers in the Finals’ first game didn’t slow the train, and LA won in five.
But those guys were in their prime. These “old” Spurs have blown up the Jazz and Clippers and the Thunder look headed for the same fate. San Antonio has ripped off 10 straight playoff wins, 20 straight overall and 31 of 33. Ahead of tonight’s Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, where the Spurs can win their 11th straight, too, of the playoffs, the historic score needs to be settled.
So who’s better? We argue. You decide.
*** *** ***
2001 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
No disrespect to the 2012 San Antonio Spurs. They are arguably the best team, since, the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers…
Time is the ultimate show of disrespect at times. Everybody is quick to clamor about the new team dominating the NBA, but those Lakers brought a whole new meaning to the word dominate. In 2001 they breezed through the Western Conference elite by an average margin of 15.45 points per game. Each team they faced won at least 50 games during the regular season. Against the seventh-seeded Portland Trailblazers in round one it was like a warm-up in the three-game swwep. In the conference semifinals they battled the three-seeded rival Sacramento Kings.
In the Western Conference Finals against the top seed San Antonio Spurs they ran their streak to 11-0, winning every game by an incredible 22.3-point margin of victory â€” and winning the final two games of the series by 39 and 29 points.
How can you compare with that?
That Lakers team was the Blueprint, they were KRS-One while the Spurs became the Jay-Z, the next dynasty. Their design of having multiple stars in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant surrounded by perfect role players coached by a legend was nearly flawless. Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Brian Shaw, Slava Medvedenko, Devean George and Robert Horry played key roles for the team as they marched through the competition getting better each round, stronger as the opponents presumably got tougher.
What allowed the role players to play significant roles was the nearly flawless play of Shaq and Kobe. The duo was on another level. Bryant was unguardable on the perimeter scoring and distributing at the best rate in his career. Shaq was equally as great putting up the best numbers of his post season career. Bottom line: The two combined for 59.8 points, 22.7 boards and 9.3 dimes per game throughout the 16-game run.
Those two could win games on their own better than elite duos like Jordan-Pippen at their best, better than Isiah-Dumars, and even better than the dynasty that was Magic-Kareem in the 80s.
On the Lakers’ way to a historic run, they had one minor moment of imperfectness. On the shoulders of Allen Iverson‘s 48 points and the Hack-a-Shaq strategy (10-22 free-throws), the 76ers had enough to knock the Lakers down for one, albiet brief, moment.
Sure the Spurs are 10-0 this post season, but they are two games from the Finals still and have to win five out of six just to be in the conversation with the 2001 Lakers. Thanks for coming.
1st round: Winning Margins – (14.6 average) Portland Trailblazers, 50-32.
2nd round: Winning Margins – (9.25 average) Sacramento Kings, 55-27.
Winning Margins – (22.25 average) San Antonio Spurs, 58-24.
Winning Margins – (6.8 average) Philadelphia 76ers, 56-26.
2012 SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Team basketball defines champions, and statistics don’t lie when you’re trying to determine the best NBA squads of all-time. This season, the miraculous run of San Antonio was built by team basketball, and the Spurs’ legacy is already cemented by the numbers.
The last time we saw a postseason run of these proportions came from the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who were eventual NBA champs. But even if we look ahead of the conference finals and past the NBA Finals, there’s good reason to believe that this Spurs team might be the better squad.
After all, the Spurs winning 10 straight playoff games isn’t of common occurrence. Add in the fact that they’ve won all but three of 37 games dating back to a March 12 win against the Washington Wizards, and this team isn’t successful in the postseason by happenstance.
How good are they?
If we’re getting back to the concept of team basketball, this San Antonio team trumps the 2000-01 Lakers, who relied upon heavy doses of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The Spurs aren’t leaning on two 30-point per game scorers, youth or any means of outright athleticism to win.
Gregg Popovich has cultivated an atmosphere from veteran mentalities and smarts, then sprinkled in the holes with young players willing to follow.
And they’re doing it with speed despite their age.
Tony Parker calculates the tempo by pushing it when he needs to then getting into halfcourt sets that can only be described as hectic and controlled, the passing of Tim Duncan and his big men counterparts causing havoc in the opponent’s defensive rotations. How fluidly the offense operates cannot be compared to any team in recent memory.
The statistics don’t lie either.
This season, the Spurs are scoring an unfathomable 110.9 points per 100 possessions, slightly trumping the 2000-01 Lakers’ offensive rating of 108.4. While the Lakers’ could make a case for that being higher had the NBA implemented the hand-checking rule a few years earlier, the Spurs could make the case that the lockout-shortened season hurt the development of their offensive cohesiveness.
On defense, San Antonio looks to have the advantage as well. This year, the Spurs gave up 103.2 points per 100 possessions compared to that Los Angeles squad’s 104.8, and that came before the hand-checking rule.
It’s hard to argue against the ever-consistent and almost faceless Spurs, winners by way of majestic, unselfish basketball and a team proven special by the winning streaks and statistics
â€” KEVIN ZIMMERMAN
Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @nbadraftinsider.
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @offensivelyfoul.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.