It still moves. Months later, all it takes is the mere mention of Game 6, and the feelings come up, like some kind of allergic regurgitation. I don't even need to see the whole play, either. Once I see Lebron's three-point attempt go up, I go out - of the room, of the nostalgia, of my mind. I don't need to see Ray Allen square up. I don't need to see the Miami faithful, however few were left, rejoice as the impossible became expected.
And that's the worst part. The narrative has changed. It's surprising to see people doubt the Spurs as a new season begins. To be fair, doubters always rile fans, but it's difficult to escape the feeling that the team should have finally earned the benefit of the doubt. But they haven't. Even without explanation - "How could any team come back from that?" the analyst shrugged - the Spurs are downgraded.
So you have Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith say the Spurs will play the same, solid way, but they won't win out. The way they played put them thirty seconds away from an NBA title. But now, half a minute might as well be half a season. We're still shocked by what happened, so of course the Spurs must be shocked.
But isn't it also possible that Game 6 could affect the team positively? The Spurs are a franchise well accustomed to playoff heartbreaks. If you've been a fan for a while, the mere mention of ".4" or "Manu's foul" is enough to cause momentary heartburn. For a team with so many big games, they still have some pretty big losses. It comes with the territory. But they move on. That's part of what makes them the team every other front office is trying to emulate. System beyond story. Finding the next step over focusing on the last one. Progress, progress, progress.
And you know, it's been fifteen years, right? A decade and a half of consistency, of military precision paired with constant ingenuity. Why would this season be any different? Why would we expect the Spurs to change their identity now? Game 6 should anger them. It should absolutely haunt them. But it can also push them. It can unite them. And just like pain inspired the 2005 and 2007 teams, I suspect it will again this year.
Prediction: The Spurs will win the West.
You probably expected this prediction, this being a Spurs blog and all. But there's nothing crazy about picking the Spurs to win the West. If you look around the conference, all you see are question marks. How will the Thunder play without Kevin Martin, who scored important baskets for them last season, and Russell Westbrook, who will likely miss several weeks of the season? Kevin Durant only played 44 minutes last season without these two. He's an incredible player, but the absence of these two will test the limits of his team's offensive attack.
The rest of the contenders all carry with them glaring obstacles to raising a trophy next June. The Clippers look great on paper and finally have a coach, but they still don't have more than 1.75 big men on their team. Blake Griffin is probably better than his reputation suggests, but D'Andre Jordan isn't. He's probably worse. And beyond those two? As Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili pointed out, you'd be hard pressed to find a designated contender with a worse rotation of big men. Ryan Hollins, Antawn Jamison, and Byron Mullens couldn't form an above replacement player if they Voltroned.
The Grizzlies have a new coach and added some pieces. But you were watching last season. The Spurs match up with them very, very well. Golden State, if they can stay healthy, will also be a great team. But theirs is an untested greatness. Few analysts, from what I have read, are willing to hitch to the Warriors Trophy bandwagon.
Houston is a huge question mark. Which Dwight Howard did they get? Is that the Orlando Superman donning the red jersey? Or is that the Los Angeles jokester that tantrumed his way out of the 2013 playoffs? And how will the team operate with an Asik/Howard frontcourt? There's a huge spectrum of possibilities awaiting that team. A title is one of a hundred outcomes.
All of these angles have been covered, at one point or another, around the NBA blogosphere. And, again, these are not bold conclusions. But look at where that leaves the Spurs. It leaves them with few changes and even fewer questions. Gary Neal and Dajuan Blair have been upgraded to Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres. (Even Patty Mills has been upgraded, albeit to "insanely cut Patty Mills.") But they're still the Spurs.
Maybe that's boring in a conference filled with new storylines and exciting possibilities. But that doesn't mean the team has become any less effective or potent. As NBA.com's John Schuman recently noted, they're bringing back the best defensive five-man group in the NBA. That, coupled with a fortified bench and a better Kawhi Leonard (chills, man) makes for a scary team.
Yeah, we know what we're getting with the Spurs. And that's exactly why I'm picking them to be at the top of the pile when the dust settles.
- Patty Mills will help improve the Spurs' alley-oop numbers, connecting once this season with Aron Baynes and once with Jeff Ayres.
- Kawhi will not be an All Star this season. He will in a few years, but right now there are too many marquee forwards in the West.
- Tony and Tim will be All Stars again, and Danny Green will join them in New Orleans to shoot in the three-point contest.