Spurs back in elite conversation?

Spurs back in elite conversation?

January 01, 2019 3:00 AM
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It’s ironic that we enter 2019 talking about a team everyone has been trying to write off for years.

Yet the San Antonio Spurs don’t appear to be going anywhere.

Since 1990, San Antonio has suffered through exactly one losing season. That came in 1997 after David Robinson was injured and the team famously tanked, wound up with the No. 1 pick and drafted Tim Duncan to pair with the Admiral.

Gregg Popovich used to joke that he’d follow Duncan out the door, but this is the third season that one of the NBA’s most celebrated big men has opened as solely a spectator and Pop is still going strong, molding another successful team. Entering their New Year’s Eve date with the Celtics, the Spurs were just a single game behind the Rockets for first place in the Southwest Division, one of eight Western Conference teams to enter the week with 20 victories and a winning record.

Kawhi Leonard was perhaps the reason Popovich thought twice about his decision to hang it up since he had replaced Duncan as the quiet superstar who simply went about his business as one of basketball’s top performers. But a disagreement over how to proceed through an injury caused a rift that the parties could not get over. Leonard is now healthy and dominating for the Raptors, who currently sit atop the entire NBA. But the haul the Spurs got back for him and Danny Green has made enough of an impact to make dismissing the perennial contender look foolish.

DeMar DeRozan, sent packing by the Raptors despite the best season of his career, has flourished. Center Jakob Poeltl, also part of the deal that sent Leonard and veteran champion Danny Green north of the border, has started to find his way as a contributor. LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay have been steady starters up front, while young guards like Bryn Forbes and Derrick White have become mainstays in the backcourt alongside Green.

Dejounte Murray, expected to be the starting point guard when the season began tore his ACL in the preseason, robbing San Antonio of its expected defensive catalyst and floor general. Considering Manu Ginobili retired and Tony Parker left because he wanted more playing time, the fact Popovich has been able to coax success out of his current group is nothing short of remarkable.

When the season began, the Westgate SuperBook placed a projected win total of 42.5 on the Spurs, who have posted a winning percentage of at least .573 in every season since ’89-’90 outside of the aforementioned tank job. Last season’s 47 wins were the fewest posted in a non-strike shortened season in the Popovich era, so there’s no doubt that San Antonio was being faded.

The Spurs’ odds to win the Western Conference were 60-to-1. They were 12-to-1 to win the Southwest Division behind the Rockets and Pelicans. Look for them to continue their resurgence this week by following the model that has been so good to them for years. Popovich has been able to get the most out of teams around the holidays by demanding nothing more than consistency and professionalism. Expect that to be a factor in this week’s home games.

Raptors at Spurs (Thursday): Leonard returns to town for a nationally televised reunion. The Raptors will likely be a slight road favorite. Take the points. SPURS

Grizzlies at Spurs (Saturday): San Antonio should be a slight favorite. Lay the points with the Spurs. They’re not going anywhere just yet. SPURS

Last week: 0-2

Season: 13-10