Updated: April 19, 2012, 2:16 AM ET

1. Is Spurs' Speed-Ball A Title Formula?

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

The Spurs should no longer be bound by our old perceptions of them.

The only reason the Spurs don't get more billing as title contenders is because of our own biases, our tendency to think of them as the same aging team that hasn't won a title since 2007, back when we envisioned a bright future for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

These 2012 Spurs are younger, faster and deeper. Which means they'll be up against the conventional playoff wisdom that speed and depth aren't the ways to win in the playoffs.

It's still hard to adjust to the Spurs as a different team. But their young, fast guys play almost as many minutes as the slow dudes. And how do we classify Tony Parker? Because he's been in the league 11 years we think of him as older, but he's still only 29.

We should be thinking of him as a serious MVP candidate. Parker is the heart of the Spurs the way Rajon Rondo is the most vital organ of the Celtics. It's not that Parker is scoring more (his 18.4 points per game don't even crack his top four seasons), but he's doing a better job than ever of running a team the way a point guard is supposed to.

We can definitely put Parker in the fast category. Ask Steve Blake, whom Parker statued on his way to a layup. (I know statued isn't a word, but there's no other way to describe the way Parker made Blake look like Lady Liberty with a full-speed change of direction.)

Collectively the Spurs put 112 points on the Lakers. Thirty-six of their points came in the second quarter, when the pace picked up and the reserves got extended playing time. Both are decided advantages for the Spurs against the Lakers.

Tony Parker
Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

"We did not look like we had -- nor tried to get -- control of the tempo," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "It kind of reminded me of when we played Phoenix at Phoenix."

And that statement reminded me of how it used to be for teams going against Mike D'Antoni's Suns, when they'd get caught up in the pace and the Suns delighted in that, knowing if both teams put up a lot of shots the Suns would make more of theirs. This season the Spurs are fourth in the league in field goal percentage and second in 3-point shooting, so if anyone wants to challenge them to target practice they welcome it.

"We are playing with a much faster pace," said Tim Duncan, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. "That's the way of the NBA. That's how it's going. You need to get the ball up the floor. Teams are too big and guys are too good defensively. You need to get the ball up the floor and make things happen early."

After all of those years of tormenting the Suns, how messed up would it be if the Spurs played the Suns in the first round and beat them by jacking their old style?

The longer-term questions begin with whether speed-ball can turn into a championship. It never did for those Suns.

And can the depth advantage come into play as much in the postseason, when their reserves will play more minutes against the other team's starters? And in the playoffs the Spurs can count on spending about 38 minutes playing against Kobe Bryant, who missed his sixth consecutive game because of a shin injury.

The Spurs secretly want Bryant to play in San Antonio Friday night so they can get an idea of what it would be like to play against this Lakers team with him on the court. They're still getting a feel for this possible playoff opponent after playing them for the first time this season last week.

That one didn't go so well for them. Andrew Bynum dominated with 30 rebounds and 16 points, and Pau Gasol had 21 points.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tinkered with the lineup this time, using Tiago Splitter instead of DeJuan Blair to counter the Lakers' height. Splitter couldn't stop Bynum in the first quarter, when he scored 13 points, but after the pace picked up in the second quarter the Lakers were never able to establish Bynum again.

If the Spurs hadn't won this, or at least made it closer than the pounding the Lakers gave them in San Antonio last week, the Spurs might as well have sent their main players home for the summer, because there'd be no reason to believe they could beat the Lakers in the playoffs with Bryant back.

At the moment, it's nothing for them to worry about. They have the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the Lakers are third, which means they could let the Thunder take the Lakers out in the second round. The Spurs match up better with the Thunder. Strange how a regular season that Popovich treated as a mere precursor to the playoffs by strategically sitting out his players could actually set up the Spurs for an optimal postseason run based on seeding.

As long as the Spurs show their style can work in the playoffs. If we're not going to consider them as the same old Spurs, it means we can't consider them proven.


Dimes past: April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6-7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13-14 | 15 | 16

2. Around The Association

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

SPONSORED HEADLINES