For whatever reason, SPAM (Spurs Peak After/At March) is not in the PtR Glossary. I found that surprising; SPAM didn't originate here, but neither did "Go Spurs Go" and it turns up in the Comments section all the time. Granted, "Go Spurs Go" isn't in the Glossary either, so what is my point? Oh yeah, I needed some way to introduce the topic at hand. You know, SPAM. Could it be that SPAM has fallen out of favor because it's no longer true? Well, let's investigate.
The first instance of SPAM I can recall was 1994-95, David Robinson's MVP season and the first time the Spurs 1) earned the best record in the NBA and 2) won sixty games. Sixty-two in fact. And that is all we need to remember about that season, nothing else noteworthy took place then. And so it happened that in 1995, the Spurs went 25-4 in March and April. Over a full season, that'll get you a 71-11 record.
(1995 still makes me angry; moving on)
The Spurs followed that up with 22-5 in March and April of 1996, which yields a full season of 67-15. Then came 1996-97, which instead of SPAM, we shall call SCAB (Spurs Crash And Burn) in honor of a franchise-worst 20-62 regular season. Of course, that dreadful record got us a certain #1 draft pick, so who's complaining?
Timmay!'s first season followed: 17-8 in March and April, which wasn't "peaking" as much as it was "maintaining the exact same winning percentage established in the first 57 games"; the 1999 Champs won 14 of their last 17 games (a 68-14 pace); the defending champs finished March and April of 2000 at 16-9, which was about the same winning percentage as their overall mark. We might blame Tim Duncan's knee injury on this one, except the Spurs won three of the four games he missed at the end of the season. It was the playoffs that revealed the true impact of Duncan's absence.
The Spurs earned the best record in the NBA for the third time in 2000-01. They played that March and April at a sizzling 21-5 clip, which makes a 66-16 record over 82 games. And in 2001-02, the final Spurs season played at the Alamodome, the Spurs played their last 25 games at an absurd 22-3 clip - the same winning percentage earned by the legendary 1996 Chicago Bulls.
From 1995-2002 (omitting the SCAB season), the Spurs averaged a record of 58-24 - but played March and April like a 65-17 team. In those days, it was clear - if the team was healthy, they were going to win, and win big, down the stretch. But in 2013, with the Spurs playing in mud against teams like Portland and Dallas, is that true today? Are the Spurs no longer SPAMmers these days?
Let's investigate the previous ten seasons (2003-2012) to find out. Here's how I'm going to do it:
1) I'm throwing out an outlier from the 2003-07 and one from 2008-12. The reason I'm doing this is a year like 2005, my outlier from the first five seasons. Tim Duncan got hurt in game 65 of that season and the Spurs lost that game, as well as seven others. With a healthy Tim Duncan I don't think the Spurs finish that season 9-8.
2) For the lockout-shortened 2012 season, I'm going with the final 1/3rd of the season, or 22 games.
That's all I've got. And here are my findings:
Overall: 60-22 (.732), best record in NBA
Before March: 39-17 (.696), 2nd-best record in NBA (Dallas #1)
March and April: 21-5 (.808)
Really, in this case it was more like SPIT (Spurs Peak In Two-thousand-three). They went 19-13 in the 2002 portion of the season and 41-9 in the 2003 portion. Considering that most of the team was made up of either twilight guys (DRob, Ferry, Smitty, Willis, Kerr) or the young-and-greens (TP, Manu, Jax, Speedy), it's an incredible accomplishment. That bunch plus Bowen, Malik Rose, and TimVP Part II was team enough to take down Shaq and Kobe in their house. In a related story, Gregg Popovich won NBA COY that year.
Overall: 57-25 (.695), 3rd-best record in NBA (Indiana #1, Minnesota #2)
Before March: 39-20 (.661), 4th-best record in NBA, 3rd-best in West (Sacramento #1, Minnesota #2)
March and April: 18-5 (.783)
The first Spurs team minus the Admiral and it was definitely strange. The guys we brought in to replace DRob and the other old guys ranged from adequate to, uh, less adequate. Rasho Nesterovic replaced Robinson - on defense, anyway. Offensively, Rasho was a most reluctant player - he made Boris Diaw look like a gunner. We brought in Hedo Turkoglu who was really solid until the playoffs came around. Ron Mercer was a guy who passed the eye test but never could stick in the NBA. Anthony Carter, a career journeyman, was supposed to be Tony's backup but he hurt his knee early on in the year and no one heard from him again. Alex Garcia could really dunk, but on the NBA level it was apparently his only skill. Charlie Ward came in during the season and was supposed to be Tony's backup but gave the Spurs nothing at all, compiling only 13 minutes in the playoffs. Robert Horry played his first silver and black season and, while solid during the year, looked like a shot player in four of the six playoff games against the LA Lakers. And yet, it still took an
illegal miracle shot by Derek "Tony must dominate" Fisher to topple the defending champs.
Overall: 63-19 (.768), 2nd-best record in NBA (Detroit #1)
Before March: 44-12 (.786), 3rd-best record in NBA (Detroit #1, Dallas #2)
March and April: 18-7 (.720)
You can't put too much stock in coincidences, but the Spurs have earned the #1 seed in the West seven times. On two occasions the #1 came via tiebreak (1999 and 2003), the rest they won outright. The Spurs have yet to win the West #1 seed outright and go on to win the NBA title. Maybe we should let OKC catch up to us...?
I don't want to rehash this season very much; it was the "Tim's plantar fasciitis, too much van Exel, Nazr Mohammed's three-pointer, worst officiating EVAR, Manu's foul after a huge three capping a 3-1 comeback" season. Ugggh. I want to vomit now.
Overall: 58-24 (.707) 3rd-best record in NBA (Dallas #1, Phoenix #2)
Before March: 39-18 (.684), 3rd-best record in NBA (Dallas #1, Phoenix #2)
March and April: 19-6 (.760)
This may not be a popular opinion to hold, but I really believe that if Dallas had somehow beaten Golden State (weird that their toughest opponent had the 12th-best record in the league) in round one, they would have won the title. Even if they had played the Spurs; Dallas was 9-6 against us in 2006 and 2007, including that game seven win in the AT&T in the previous postseason. But we were better than everyone else, including a tough Phoenix team. Sometimes luck goes for you, sometimes against. We certainly know all about drawing a tough round matchup, don't we?
From 2003-07 (omitting 2005), the Spurs averaged a record of 59-23. In those four seasons, the Spurs compiled a March and April record of 76-23, which translates into 63-19 over 82 games. It is undeniable that, during the heart of the championship era, the Spurs raised their game in time for the postseason. In part two, we will examine the Spurs March and April performance in the five seasons since the 2007 championship.