In every major sport with a postseason tournament, much is made of "getting hot at the right time". Conventional wisdom says that to win in the postseason, a team needs to be firing on all cylinders. If that is in fact the case, the San Antonio Spurs should be sitting pretty. They won 21 of their final 23 regular season games while resting players and avoiding injuries. Any concerns of being rusty or out of sync once the Playoffs began were quickly laid to rest. They swept the Utah Jazz by an average margin of 16 points in what more closely resembled a layup drill than a Playoff series. Hot may not be a strong enough adjective to describe just how well they are playing right now. Perhaps sizzling would be more accurate.
This is, of course, no accident. The Spurs are a well coached, deep team that does many things well. They have the unusual distinction of leading the league in both Field Goal percentage and 3-Pt Field Goal percentage. Defending a team that consistently drains 3's while getting dozens of easy layups is no easy task. The dynamic duo of guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli may be the best 1-2 punch in the business. While a bit long in the tooth, Tim Duncan is still a great player who is healthy in May for the first time in years. Gary Neal, Dejuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Tiago Splitter are all solid players who know their role and rarely play outside of themselves. Poppovich preaches ball movement and collectively these guys pass the rock better than any team I have ever seen.
Could this team win it all? Absolutely. Do I think that they will? Not necessarily. The Spurs are not without their weaknesses. Basketball is all about matchups and San Antonio does not match up well with some teams in the Western Conference. Here are some of the weaknesses that could prove to be their undoing;
Suspect Interior Defense
This comes down to size. Right now the Spurs have two 7 footers on their roster; Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Duncan is still a serviceable defender but not the dominant force he was 10 years ago. Tiago Splitter is still young and gets into foul trouble early and often when defending quality big men. Matt Bonner is tall (listed as 6'10") but a non-factor defensively due to his lack of strength and quickness. Heavy D (Dejuan Blair) gives a ton of effort but is a very undersized center at 6'7". Teams with quality low post players like the Grizzlies or Lakers could pose problems for San Antonio.
Difficulty Facing Good Shot Blocking
The Spurs shoot a lot of jump shots but their dribble penetration is what gets them going. The Spurs guards getting into the paint is what creates spacing for their outside shooters. Teams that can keep Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli out of the paint tend to give this team trouble. The Lakers, Grizzlies, and Thunder have great shot blockers who could make life difficult for this Spurs' offense.
Difficulty Facing Efficient Offenses
San Antonio likes to get out and run in transition. They also like to shoot a lot of 3-Pointers. The way to stop a fast breaking team is to make shots. The way to stop a 3-Point shooting team is to make shots while using up the shot clock. When you control the clock while scoring, you take away both fast break baskets and possessions. 3-Point shooting teams like the Spurs need a lot of possessions to be effective. Teams with efficient offenses like the Lakers, Grizzlies, or Clippers could disrupt the Spurs' offensive rhythm.
San Antonio matches up pretty well with the remaining teams in the East (Miami, Boston, Indiana, and Philly) but getting out of the West will not be easy. The Lakers, Clippers, Thunder and Grizzlies all pose different matchup problems for them and the road to the Finals will be a difficult one for this very talented team. A fifth championship for Duncan and Poppovich would add to their already impressive Hall of Fame resume. A fourth championship most likely guarantees (deservedly so, in my humble opinion) first ballot status to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. The Spurs' next series will start Tuesday and the real test begins.