Amid rumors of The Big Fundemental possibly retiring at season’s end, and confirmation that their lone All Star Tony Parker will be out “for the foreseeable future”, the Spurs came out of the break and made a statement. Without Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter the San Antonio rallied behind Patty Mills (of all people) and his 16 fourth quarter points to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.
For some ungodly reason, the Spurs are being looked past as contenders in the West. But remember, they were one layup, one free throw, and one Ray Allen miracle away from being champions last season. While they have maintained the same core, they only improved their complementary pieces around that core.
They currently sit quietly in second in their conference, and are accustomed and welcoming of their under-the-radar status. Here are the Spurs finishes in the conference dating back to the 2002-2003 season:
2nd, 1st, 1st, 7th (50 wins, beat 2nd seed Dallas in playoffs), 3rd, 3rd, 3rd (Championship), 1st, 2nd (Championship), 3rd, 1st (Championship)
Concerns about Parker’s injury are legitimate as the turning point in last year’s Finals can be almost directly traced back to the point when Parker’s hamstring injury flared up. Even still, the Spurs will be ok. Their mix of youth, leadership, scoring, defense and championship pedigree along with the best coach in the NBA makes them contenders until someone else is popping champagne and getting confetti stuck in their mouths.
— Blake Griffin may be receiving MVP votes for the first time in his career this year. Despite defeat, he scored 35 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Meanwhile the Clippers other star, Chris Paul, failed to capitalize on the Spurs backup point guards only tallying 1-10 from the field scoring just 11 points.
— The Pacers beat the struggling and injury riddled Hawks 108-98 in Indy last night behind Paul George’s 26 points. Be wary, however, of talk of this being some big bounce back game for George after struggling in January and slipping even more in the first half of February.
— George started the game 6-6 from the field, scoring 14 in the first quarter, but after his initial surge he finished 2-12 and 12 points in the final three stanzas. George is a menace defensively, and still a budding star, but shaking off the stench that has plagued him the past two months will take more than a big quarter.
— The Phoenix Suns just continue to win. They topped the Denver Nuggets in overtime 112-107. The now-twice resurrected Gerald Green scored a career-high 36 points to go with All Star snub Goran Dragic’s 21-point, 14-assist night. The Suns are the biggest surprise of the season and now sit in sixth in the West.
— The Nuggets actually led 99-94 with just 50 seconds to play. But the Suns scored twice in the final minute, both off Markieef Morris offensive rebounds, and sent the game into OT. It was there Green capped off his career night, scoring eight points in the extra period to propel the Suns to victory.
— Speaking of surprises, the Charlotte Bobcats are a playoff team! Just like AJ told you they would! Well, for now, but Mike’s team currently sits comfortably in the eighth seed in the East after beating the Pistons last night 108-96.
— Charlotte sits ahead of Detroit, Cleveland and New York, teams all picked by many to make the playoffs above the Bobcats. But Charlotte is a legit tough out every night, built on defense they currently are the fifth toughest team to score on, allowing a sparse 97.1 points a game. Those numbers place them ahead of the Spurs, Thunder and Heat.
– Just above the Bobcats on that list are the Toronto Raptors (96.8 points allowed per game), who beat the Wizards 103-93. The Raptors may quietly be the most important team in the Eastern Conference. If they remain the third seed until they playoffs – and Miami remains in second – they would be a much easier out, both physically and competitively, than the Chicago Bulls (with a possibly, maybe, but don’t hold your breath, returning Derrick Rose) in the second round.
– The Knicks dropped their 3rd straight game, and fall to just 1-6 in February, falling to the Grizzlies 98-93. Here’s a fun stat from ESPN about the Knicks: As a team, the Knicks are 2-of-25 (8%) on potential game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempts in the final 24 seconds of 4th quarter or overtime this season, the worst percentage in the league.
– In the “ultimately meaningless until the draft lottery in June section of the night,” the Cavs beat the 76ers by a lot. Not one to be outdone, the Magic somehow lost to the Bucks as all four teams fight for ping pong balls rather than playoff spots. Ok, ok, maybe the Cavs are still playing for wins and all that, but Dion Waiters hyperextending his knee after dunking on Spencer Hawes isn’t going to help their cause. But hey look, Anthony Bennett had a double double!
– The Heat beat the Mavs in Dallas and the story of the game was LeBron scoring a season high 42 points (and really, after 2011, shouldn’t all of LeBron’s games against Dallas be like this?), continuing his string of big games going back to last week in Phoenix. I’ve already devoted some words to LeBron’s recent play, but there’s a tad more to be said.
— When Kevin Durant played the best ball of his career in January, it was treated as him making the leap, possibly catching up to LeBron. He was putting it all together and maybe, improbably, somehow becoming the best player in the world. LeBron’s uptick in production the past week has been treated as nothing more than LeBron returning to form; a restoration of normalcy and the end of Miami’s coasting. That is pretty much all you need to know about the two players and where they stand in relation to one another.
Either way, Thursday night in Oklahoma is going to be fun.