Playoffs-2013 are about to start. Some lesser teams already started their mildly entertaining but ultimately meaningless battles for a glimpse of hope to get to the spotlight. But at the end there is only series in the first round who everyone is waiting for. So, meet the stars of this show, your Southwest Division Champions San Antonio Spurs.
Their Regular Season. They started this season great, and continued to play great all the way until the end of the Rodeo Road Trip. Even though several players, including Manu, had injuries in Nov-Feb, these injuries didn't affect the team play and record. The bench looked great. The Spurs played team basketball and looked like the world beaters. The trouble started after the team came back home after the RRT and lost their first game to the hapless Phoenix Suns. The things got worse after Tony Parker, who have had an MVP-level season got down with an injury. The team finished the season slumping and losing games they should not have lost. They lost last three games and 7 out of last 10. They still won enough games (58) to win the division and get #2 seed in the West. Now, before we can make any playoffs predictions, let us look at the individual players.
Timothy Theodore Duncan. Tim Duncan has been consistently great whole regular season. He returned to his all-star form, played great defense, dunked, blocked, assisted and had done everything and more we could have expected from the future HoFer. His play was the best thing that happened to the Spurs during this season. Playoffs Predictions: hopefully, Timmeh can continue his stellar play and be the best big man in this season's playoffs.This team is clearly his team again, as were the Spurs championship teams.
Tony Parker. Until going down with an injury, Tony was playing as the best PG in the game. However, he has not been the same after coming back. He looks slower, and he lost his shooting touch. Playoffs Predictions: we need MVP-level Parker to have a chance against the Heat and OKC. We may need an all-star-level Parker just to advance to WCF. However, we may not have even an all-star level Parker until the next season. It could be a long summer if Tony doesn't recover soon.
Manu Ginobili. Manu's game notably declined in 2013. His injuries didn't help as well. Overall, Manu became more of an X-factor for the Spurs rather than a leader of the team. He still can be very good for stretches, but he also can be rather bad. He certainly had a lot of rest recently, which may be great news. Playoffs Predictions: I expect Manu to be good for us in the playoffs, as long as we don't need to excessively rely on his play. He may be not 100%, so Pop would be wise to watch and limit his minutes.
The Medium Three. Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green all had better seasons than last year. None of them however played very well recently. We need these guys to return to their mid-season form during the playoffs. Playoffs Predictions: I hope our Medium Three will step up and play much better in these playoffs than last year. If they regress to their last playoffs performance, we have no chance of going deep.
The Bench. We loved our bench for the most of the season. However, it didn't perform well in last ~6 weeks or ~20 games. Here is where they stand, player by player:
Gary Neal - he had a period of bad shooting, and he never been very good on D or playing PG position. He seems to recover his shot recently, so there is hope he'll shoot well in the playoffs. We know he has an ice in his veins, so bright lights of the playoffs will work well for him.
Boris Diaw - got injuried after a season of uninspired play. He'll probably be out for 1st round, so we should figure out how to play without him.
Stephen Jackson - had a terrible season, but expected to play better during the playoffs. Oh, wait, he got waived. Forget about him.
Matt Bonner - he seems to lose his 3-pt shooting touch after ASG 3-pt contest. He played rather well recently, and should contribute his energy and BBIQ during the playoffs. Just don't expect him to be a game-changer, rather his role would be a minute-eater, when Tim and Tiago would rest.
DeJuan Blair - after a forgettable season, he played decently when given some minutes after Diaw went down. We don't really know what to expect from him in the playoffs. Pop should give him some chances in my opinion.
Aron Baynes - these playoffs are probably not for him, unless we play some garbage time, when he could shine.
Nando de Colo / Cory Joseph / Patty Mills - If we see any of them during the playoffs it would mean that it's either garbage time or we are in some kind of a trouble. Depending on a particular trouble, Pop may choose to play one or another. We can discuss their relative virtues, abilities and deficiencies all day long, but most likely none of them would be very relevant during these playoffs, barring a miracle.
Tracy McGrady - if there was ever a dark horse, her name was Tracy. In short, we have no freaking idea what we should expect from T-Mac. Most likely, we should see him as an insurance at 2-3 positions. Pop may give him some minutes if other guys do not perform as well as he expects.
Pop - Pop has been a great regular season coach and rather average playoffs coach recently. With the exception of the end of 2011 season, when he changed starting 5, and the end of this season. I think, Pop lost his bench recently. Part of it may be a 'Joseph's effect'. Pretty much every bench player may feel that he is better player than Cory Joseph, and when Pop inserted Joseph into starting lineup it must have been very discouraging for our bench players. Danny Green can hardly be seen as a star as well. Pop was experimenting with the lineups whole season, and failed to establish a clear pecking order beyond first 6 players (starters + Manu). I think, this is an ultimate reason behind bench's recent struggles and overall uninspired play. None of them is certain about their role on the team. Playoffs Predictions: I don't expect any miracles from Pop during the playoffs. We will only go as far as our players led by Duncan will carry us.
Playoffs Predictions: The Spurs are not good enough to win a series against the Heat. They only have a chance against OKC if Parker miraculously returns to his MVP-level of play. Most likely, they either will fall to Denver in the 2nd, or to OKC in the WCF. Now, what is your playoff predictions and expectations?