You have to be confident when you lead the NBA in wins, right? Wrong. Just ask the Mavs. Join me after the jump to see why I'm not getting carried away.
First of all, I kind of lied. I am psyched. I haven't felt this confident in the Silver and Black for what feels like forever. But as an All Blacks fan, I can tell you, confidence is not enough. The NZ rugby team has been the best team in the world year after year, after year. I mean these guys top the rankings by a huge margin, EVERY time. So why have they only won 1 World Cup out of 6 attempts? I won't bore you with the details, but there has been a little bit of French flair (1999), Pommy reffing (2007), some South African home cooking (1995) and I mean that last one literally. Clint Eastwood's a pussy for not showing the true story. Of course there have been a few choking Dirka moments along the way, but that contradicts my point. So I'll smoothly pass the buck to my dear friend Lady Luck. You just cannot win a major competition without an element of her help.
In saying that, it has to be said that the Spurs are working hard to take her out of the equation, or at least as much as possible. It was noted before the season started that Manu told Pop that the Spurs need to get off to a quicker start during the regular season. I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. It is VITAL that the Spurs have home court throughout the playoffs. Unfortunately, to prove my point I will have to make a couple of assumptions.
Assumption 1. The West will be decided by three teams. The Spurs, The Mavs and The Lakers. I'm assuming the Thunder get the 4th seed in the west, and the Jazz 5th, but after that it doesn't really matter. In fact, after the 3rd seed, it's a wash. The Mavs, the Spurs and the Lakers have the skill and experience to go all the way to the finals. No-one else comes close. Simple as that.
Assumption 2. Whoever gets that top seed in the West, makes it to the finals. Let's say the Spurs go on to obtain the top record in the west. They dispatch the suprise 8th seed Clippers and carve out the Thunder in 4 straight in the next round. Now they can relax and watch the final 3 games of the 7 game series between the Lakers and Mavs. After the winner uses their pre-determined alotment of luck to make it through this series, the Spurs who still have a full tank of Gummiberry juice, have the upper hand.
I have no doubt in my mind that either one of these three teams can beat each other on any given day. I just don't want our boys to have to beat them both. And before you even think it, yeah, yeah, you got to beat the best to be the best, I know. They're just hollow sentiments. History doesn't take this into account. The playoffs are all about match-ups. More often than we all care to admit, the best team doesn't always win. I won't bother with the East, because we've never lost a NBA Finals match-up yet. (Knocking on wood)So Lady Luck is a huge factor in just reaching the finals. What else has me worried.
- Strength of opponents thus far. Out of the legit contenders for the chip, (Boston, Miami, LA and Dallas) we've only had one match-up, and that was of course the home loss to the Mavs. This early in the season, these match-ups aren't nearly as important as they are leading up to the first round but they are a good measuring stick. The numbers are Boston 2-1, Miami 0-3, Dallas 3-0, LA 0-0, SA 0-1. So far either Dallas looks really good, or Miami look like pretenders. Personally I won't write off the Heat just yet but I do fear the Mavs. Overall there obviously isn't enough data to make any conclusive evidence. We have had good wins against some strong opponents, the stretch where we beat OKC, Chicago and Utah were all positives. Other notables against NO, Phoenix, Portland, Orlando, and Denver too. But these are teams we should be beating and will beat in a seven game series.
- FT% - It's coming back down to earth. In our first 10 games we shot an impressive 78% as a team. That's pretty good for us. In the last 5 games we've barely made 72%. It's a worrying trend. Also the amount of Ft's attempted has decreased significantly. Over the first 10 games we attempted 30 or more FTs 5 times. Over the last 5 games, we reached 30 just once.
- +/- ratio. Over that first 10 game spurt we had a point differential of 7.9 and that's including a 9 point loss to the Hornets. Over the last 5 games, only 4.6. We're still winning, but it's a lot closer than it should be. You could argue that the quality of opposition is steeper and it has been, yet we haven't played full bodied teams. We played Denver twice, neither time did they have their full squad and both of those games came down to the wire.
- TQC. Ahhh. The three worst letters in the alphabet. We've had 2 TQC's in the last 5 while we only had 1 in the first 10, again that loss to the Hornets. Not cool guys, not cool. These I fear more than cancer. So far we've managed to re-win these games in the 4th but we have to stop putting ourselves in that position.