Saturday, February 23, 2013

San Antonio Spurs. A class act

Many think the Miami Heat are the team to beat for the NBA championship, and they might very well be right. They've still got the same cast of characters that won the title last year, and Lebron and Co. are steamrolling just about everybody that gets in their way these days.

There's a few other teams that are very good. The Okla City Thunder and LA Clippers get a lot of attention and TV time. Also, there's a couple others that are just excellent but seem to fly under the radar -- like the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. They aren't nationally hyped as much as, say, the greatly improved NY Knicks, but make no mistake. Memphis and Indiana are terrific basketball teams. Check the standings.

But nobody seems to fly under the radar like the San Antonio Spurs. They've been quietly great for a long time. In the 14 seasons since 1999, the Spurs have won 4 NBA championships. And don't look now, but they currently have the best record in the entire league, including being a couple games ahead of Miami.

While other teams have more "showtime" players, the Spurs do it the old fashioned way. Supreme teamwork and execution. Sure, they have some very good players themselves, like the old guard of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, who show no signs of slowing down with age. But if you watch a Spurs game, you'll notice just about all the players contribute. It's likely that their "2nd stringers" are just as good or better than the majority of NBA teams. Every one of them can play -- and play at a high level.

No doubt, this is due to their head coach, Gregg Popovich, who many knowledgeable basketball people generally consider the best coach in the game -- by far. Coach Pop has a way of not only instilling the fundamentals of basketball upon his players, but doing so in a fashion where it becomes almost second nature to them during the course of a game. They space the floor well, and move the ball quickly so that it gets to the right guy at the right time. If there's an open man -- they'll find him. Time and again, we see one of their players pass up a wide open jumper -- sometimes in mid-shot, only to get the ball to a teammate that's cutting to the basket for a layup or dunk. They also flow to the ball very quickly on defense. If one guy gets beat, another is coming to help out. The Spurs can run up and down or play a half court game. They've got height, speed, toughness, shooters, rebounders, and most of all, smarts. Fundamentally, they're just very sound all the way around. In other words, they don't beat themselves.

It's almost comical that more attention is given to why the LA Lakers are losing than what the Spurs get for their excellence. Yes, LA's definitely a bigger market, complete with all the glitterati, and San Antonio's mostly known for the Alamo -- but it doesn't seem right.

There's certainly no guarantee the Spurs will even make it to the finals, let alone win the championship, but don't underestimate these guys either. As mentioned above, they're 2 games ahead of Miami in the standings, and most would agree the western conference, where the Spurs play more games, offers tougher competition than the east, where Miami does the same. Having the best record two thirds of the way through the regular season is noteworthy.

What I really like about the Spurs is they don't whine, complain, and "flop" like so many players on other teams. They just go about their business and quietly get it done. You won't see Spurs players doing a bunch of TV commercials or other high profile gigs either. They've got basketball to play. Also, any locker room dissention on their team is either non-existent, or kept "in-house", where it belongs, unlike some other clubs. From the head coach on down, the San Antonio Spurs are professionals -- and they act like it.

To boot, Coach Popovich isn't above yukking it up once in a while with the media, and even with the players. That might help explain why his players pay such close attention to what he tells them. He still expects maximum effort and discipline, but he keeps it loose.

Popovich overheard on the sidelines during a time-out of a recent game --- "The next guy that misses a free throw is going to buy me a new car".

No wonder they concentrate so hard.

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