The regular season is too long. No team or player will remain at peak level for the whole 82 games, which means there will be times along the way when even elite squads look terrible. Those losses along the way don't mean much unless they reveal a fatal flaw. After all, the idea is to survive the marathonic march without injuries, find a rhythm and the ideal rotations for the playoffs and patch up weaknesses. I think we all know that.
Duncan's attempt to prank Manu Ginobili goes awry
There's getting even. There's getting ahead. And then there's what Duncan did to Manu on New Year's Eve at the AT&T Center.
But we are also fans, so we can't be expected to be rational about our team. So of course after a meaningless loss there will be those hitting the panic button. Don't get me wrong, there are lessons to learn in the regular season and if a team is not improving, that's a legitimate cause for concern. But more often than not, that pessimistic, panicky voice in our head will try to make us freak out for no reason at all.
Here is how I counter that creeping feeling of doom every time the Spurs don't play to their standards and all hope seems lost:
Think about the big picture. It's all about the playoffs
The Spurs have been so good for so long that there is nothing they can do in the regular season that would satisfy us. If they dominate, we'll worry about complacency or how it will translate to the playoffs. If they don't, we think of it as an omen that they just aren't good enough. I can't tell you how many rants or freak out posts I've started writing after a bad loss or especially a bad win (yes, those do exist) only to have to delete them the second I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture.
The Spurs are 25-8. There are 49 games left, which means there is plenty of time to iron out the kinks. This same core almost won it all last season and seems to have upgraded its bench. With Manu Ginobili returning to top form and Parker and Duncan slowly rounding into shape, the Big Three is alive and well. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter might lack offensive polish but are two of the best defenders in the league. I have no idea what happened to Boris Diaw and Patty Mills over the off-season but I'm loving the results.
When you really think about it, there just aren't a lot of teams with the Spurs' combination of top tier talent, depth, continuity and experience. That will shine through in the playoffs. So all might not be lost because they lost to the Dolans, after all.
Learn to enjoy Pop's experiments. They might pay off some day*
You may wonder why Pop changes starting lineups, uses weird units and draws the occasional alley oop play. The answer is simple: because he knows the Spurs are really good and will get a high seed anyway so he wants to know if there is room for improvement through experimentation. Pop will tinker with lineups, use different guys in different ways and hopefully find a strength he didn't know the team had. If there's nothing there, he can always go back to the familiar rotations and roles.
That's why the RRT is a good gauge of how good the Spurs can be: around that time, Pop starts getting a feel for what works and tries to stick to it. Once the experiments stop, the Spurs should make up for whatever ground they lost early in the season, like they have in the past. Would anyone really be surprised if the team starts clicking around the All-Star break and goes on a couple of long win streaks? I sure wouldn't.
Speaking about in-season evolution and streaks...
Don't worry about "signature wins." They mean very little
J.R.W. talks Parker's quenelle on Naessens show
J.R. Wilco discusses the Quenelle and racism with Phil Naessens
"The Spurs can't beat good teams," people say. Correction: the Spurs have not beaten good teams yet. They have lost seven games against OKC (twice), Houston (twice), LAC, Indiana and Portland. But they still have 10 games left to play against those teams. That's not counting the games against the Heat, who the Spurs haven't faced yet or the wins against the Suns and Warriors, who are extremely close to the Rockets in the standings. There's time to get signature wins. But do those really matter?
Last season the Spurs went a combined 6-6 against the West first, third and fourth seeds, splitting the season series against all three. And they still went to the Finals. They lost their two meetings with the Heat and were ridiculously close to beating them. They lost seven of their last ten going into the playoffs and swept the Lakers with ease!
I'm not saying we should not care about regular season losses, especially against good teams. I'm not a robot. I get mad when the Spurs lose. But once that initial emotional reaction passes, I realize there might be injury and schedule-related extenuating factors. Even if there aren't, maybe those losses can help the team learn something. If a couple of months from now the Spurs keep having the same problems against contenders (mid-range defense, role players not contributing as much, free throw disparity, etc), then I will really start to worry. But not now, not in January.
Remember that the other contenders also have weaknesses and let down games
Since we obsessively watch the Spurs, we can spot their flaws from a mile away while the problems afflicting other contenders elude us. But they are there and their fans freak out about them just like you. Visit the SBNation blog for any of the teams you think are near perfect and you will see authors and fans worrying about their team's potential downfall.
That doesn't mean those teams are not scary. All of those franchises have a legitimate shot a the title. But they are not perfect and neither are the Spurs.
* * *
So there you have it. That's my guide to avoid the post-loss freak outs. Worrying about a regular season game or two seems silly once you realize that as long as the team is healthy and near the top of the standings, they'll have a shot. That doesn't mean I'm fully immune to my negative side, mind you. But by keeping things in perspective, I'm managing to avoid losing it over a missed rotation or a cold shooting night. And those are the type of small wins that make those 82 games more enjoyable or at least less nerve-wrecking.
*Don't even bring up not having Duncan on the floor when switching at the end of games. We all know why he does it. You either agree or you don't by now but we don't need ten Finals jokes.