Sunday, April 3, 2011

What's Wrong with the Spurs?

On Christmas Day, the Spurs were 25-4.  By the end of January, their winning percentage had dipped, and their record stood at only 40-7.  By the first day of spring, the Spurs had fallen even further, giving them a 57-13 record.  Even with the Spurs clearly not living up to the standard they set in their first 30 games, they still had the best record in the Western Conference and the NBA.  To that point, San Antonio had more 11-game winning streaks (two) than 2-game losing streaks (one).  Since then, though, it's all gone south.  The Spurs are currently in the middle of a six-game losing streak, and the surging Lakers are now only one game back in the loss column.  In the midst of the first 5+ game losing streak in the Tim Duncan (see above) era, the Spurs aren't panicking.  But should they be?  Hit the jump to find out.

Though some may disagree, I am going to answer with a resounding "no": the Spurs do not need to panic at this point in time.  Even after losing to the lottery-bound Rockets last night, San Antonio does not need to be overly concerned about their championship hopes.  That is not to say that they shouldn't worry at all--every six-game losing streak arises out of some problem that needs to be corrected before the playoffs.  And I don't mean to imply that the Spurs will cakewalk to the title--because nobody ever does.  However, I am confident that the Spurs can still be just as dominating in April as they were during their 57-13 start.  The Spurs will still be one of the best teams in the league for a handful of reasons.

The primary reason is that the Spurs have actually played as well as any team could play during a six-game slide.  Of the six games the Spurs have lost since spring began, four have been on the road and two have been at the tail-end of a back-to-back set.  In addition, the worst team that the Spurs played during their skid was the 39-36 Houston Rockets.  All six games have been against teams over .500, and their worst loss (in terms of point differential) was to the red-hot Boston Celtics.  The Spurs have had to run through a gauntlet for the last six games with no break in terms of opponents or days off.  Though they lost all six games, the Spurs did not handle this stretch horribly.  They did not lose any game by more than 10 points, and they've only lost by an average of 5.8 points during the streak.  That includes one loss at the buzzer and another game that the Rockets sent to overtime with with three seconds left in regulation.  I'm not trying to paint this losing streak as if everything is still rosy for the Spurs, but it is important to realize that they've played an incredibly tough schedule and been close in every single game.

The Spurs also shouldn't panic because this six-game losing streak has largely been a product of injuries, depriving them of elite players at an inopportune time.  In their loss to Portland March 28, San Antonio played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker (see left), or Manu Ginobili, who also missed most of the previous game in Memphis.  No team can be expected to win (especially against a playoff team like Portland) when missing averages of 48 points, 15.9 rebounds, and 14.2 assists.  On top of that, the Spurs were deprived of power forward and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan for the first four games of the slide.  Then, upon returning to the lineup, he was thrown right into the fire against the Celtics' deep frontcourt, defending the likes of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis.  During Duncan's absence, the Spurs gave his 29 minutes per game to 26-year-old rookie Tiago Splitter.  In the four games before Duncan's injury, Splitter played a grand total of four minutes, not even seeing the floor in three of those contests.  Replacing Tim Duncan with a player of Splitter's caliber left a gigantic void in the Spurs' lineup, leaving them exposed to Zach Randolph of the Grizzles, Nene of the Nuggets, and more.  Now, with Duncan (and Parker and Ginobili) back, the Spurs have been playing better ball, losing only to the Celtics and on the road to the Rockets in overtime.  Though the Spurs' six-game slide is certainly cause for concern, please don't hit the panic button.  Any team would have trouble with a brutal schedule and injuries to their three best players.  So don't get too upset, Spurs fans, because you're still in first place and not truly in free-fall.

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