Wednesday , Dec , 17 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

We Should’ve Known Better with the Spurs

We Should've Known Better with the SpursStop me if you’ve heard this before: Going into the season, the San Antonio Spurs were an afterthought in the Western Conference. We thought, after they came up short the previous year, that the Spurs were too old and their time to dominate the NBA was over. But, as the season progressed, we were proven wrong, and San Antonio was once again a legitimate factor in the NBA.

Sound familiar?

Well, maybe that’s because it’s happened every single year since Tim Duncan and David Robinson were doing shaving commercials, Avery Johnson was directing offenses with the ball in his hands and Sean Elliot was hitting clutch 3-pointers.

Ever since the franchise took home its first championship in 1999, despite what fans said – or wanted to believe – going into a season, the Spurs have been right there among the game’s elite.

And they never go away. That’s why I consider them the cockroaches of the NBA (which may explain their incredibly bland all-black uniforms).

Maybe they’re always picked to fall off because they’re just not exciting enough.

Maybe Duncan’s game is too perfect, Gregg Popovich’s postgame press conferences are too boring and the rest of its stars are not American enough – or at all.

Whatever it is, year in and year out, we think the Spurs have met their demise. Then –like those two-to-three-inch black, prehistoric creatures that walk your hallways in the middle of the night and scare the bejesus out of you when you go into the kitchen for a midnight snack – they come right back just when you thought you’ve killed them off.

This year is no different
At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, we had more reason to believe the Spurs’ run would come to an end than ever.

San Antonio had just come off losing a five-game series in the Western Conference Finals to a Los Angeles Lakers team that, with Andrew Bynum healthy, looked to be even better for the following year. And before the season even started, star shooting guard Manu Ginobili was guaranteed to miss nearly a month of the regular season.

Those thoughts heightened immensely when, with the Spurs already struggling to a 1-3 record to start the season, star point guard Tony Parker was expected to miss two-to-four weeks when he suffered a sprained left ankle on Nov. 7.

That’s it, right?

Season over. The West is too good, and the Spurs are too banged up.

But did we forget Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time?

Like a true legend should, “The Big Fundamental” held down the fort until his two star teammates returned, and he is currently averaging 21 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game.

Not only that, but now, Ginobili and Parker are back. And just like every year in recent memory, the Spurs are a scary team.

Since Nov. 21, the Spurs have won 10 of 12 games and are now sitting pretty with the fourth-best record in the West at 15-8. And they haven’t been getting fat on a soft schedule, either. Included in that 12-game run are home wins against the Jazz and Hawks, and road wins against the Nuggets, Mavericks and Rockets.
Lakers’ biggest challengers
But despite San Antonio’s recent success and previous championship allure, we all know who the team to beat in the West will be this year – the Lakers.

Are the Spurs good enough to take down Los Angeles this season? I don’t think so.

But I do believe they are the team with the best chance of doing so not named the Boston Celtics.

Crazy, right?

The Houston Rockets now have their own “Big Three,” the Denver Nuggets finally have a floor general in Chauncey Billups, the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are full of All-Stars, and the Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets have incredible amounts of youth and athleticism.

But the one thing that has made the Spurs so good over the years is the one thing that makes them better than all those aforementioned teams: consistency.

And going into these playoffs, San Antonio will have two things none of those squads possess: the experience of winning an NBA championship, and the cohesiveness of playing together.

Better than ever?
It also doesn’t hurt that I believe this Spurs team may be better than any other they’ve fielded since the new millennium.

Believe it or not, injuries to Parker and Ginobili may have been the best thing to happen to this team because, for the first time in a long time, the end of the bench had to step up and take a more definitive role.

And that proved to me that, for the first time in a long time, San Antonio has one of its deepest teams ever.

Roger Mason (13.3 points per game) has proven to be a great offseason acquisition, Matt Bonner (8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds per game) is finally starting to play with some confidence, 22-year-old George Hill (9.9 points, 3 assists per game) has been one of the more pleasant surprises on the Spurs’ roster, and even though Ime Udoka isn’t putting up the numbers this year, I’ve been impressed with his skill sets since he emerged with the Spurs after several stints in the NBA Development League.

Yes, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Jacque Vaughn are aging gradually as you read this column, but they’ll be there come May and June.

Add those grizzly veterans, combine the young, upstart players and mix it all up with three stars who have proven they can lead teams to the Promised Land and what do you get?

The same thing you’ve been getting for almost a decade.

So why do we keep getting fooled?