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It's time to stop the "Spurs are a Regular Season Team" Narrative

The Spurs have been regular season juggernauts the last two seasons, but that does not mean they don't have the pieces for similar success in the playoffs.

Stephen Jackson's swedge is a reason for hope.
Stephen Jackson's swedge is a reason for hope.
Stephen Dunn

I don't particularly like Power Rankings. I honestly do not see the point in them, but generally read them anyway. I rarely let the Spurs' ranking get to me, but there was a common repeated theme that caught my eye.

From Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk:

2. Spurs (3-0, LW 7). The Spurs are very good in the regular season. Again. Shocking. And they got Manu Ginobili back on Saturday, so they should start to play better. Just don't call them happy.

From Matt Moore at CBS Sports:

2. And now for something completely different, the Spurs look great in the regular season.

The Spurs look great in the regular season. This has been part of the narrative for some time now, and it makes sense. After being a bad regular season team and a great playoff team for most of Duncan's and Pop's tenure, the Spurs have not been able to translate regular season dominance to the playoffs the last couple of years. The loss to the Grizzlies as the first seed deserves to be remembered, and that exit earned the Spurs the reputation they have now. The 4-game losing streak to close the series against OKC seems to have cemented it.

So I understand, and to a point agree with, the basics of what these guys and others say: The Spurs' offensive death machine approach works better in the regular season than in the playoffs, where great teams usually have similarly good offenses and better defenses. At the same time, it might be time to update this narrative.

Last season, the Spurs dominated the regular season, going on a 20-game wining streak and playing some of the best team basketball in years. Their efficiency differential was through the roof, and they looked unstoppable at times. And the Spurs did the exact same thing in the playoffs.

People seem to forget that the Spurs not only beat the Jazz and Clippers; they destroyed them. They picked them apart. Were those flawed teams? Sure. But then again, those are the teams you are going to face when you finish 1st in the conference. The 2010 Grizzlies were an anomaly; a team that was much better than the usual 8th seed and had an inspired Zach Randolph giving the performance of his life. Yes, last year, Utah was worse. And yes, the Clippers were hurt, but they had just disposed of the Grizzlies in the first round and had both a big, athletic front line and a fantastic pick and roll point guard. Those are the two things the Spurs were supposed to struggle with, which even led to Moore predicting the Clippers would win. Yet the Spurs swept both teams with relative ease.

Then the OKC series started and after two convincing wins it looked like the Spurs were a shoe in for the Finals. Unfortunately...well you know what happened. But that shouldn't erase the fact that the Spurs looked like the best team in basketball even in the playoffs. They did what a #1 seed should do and easily got to the conference finals, where they lost a close series to a great team.

Unfortunately, that great team then proceeded to lose the NBA finals. That loss by the Thunder probably contributed more than anything to this conception of the Spurs: they were beaten by a team that couldn't defeat the ridiculously talented Heat; therefore, the Spurs are a bad playoff team.The other major factor that prevents people from noticing that the Spurs are not the same team they were when they were swept by the Suns, or even defeated by the Grizzlies, is perceived continuity. The Spurs did not make a trade this offseason, which led to a lot of people thinking they didn't shake things up enough and would be good in the regular season but bad in the playoffs, just as before.

What this line of thinking ignores is that the Spurs underwent a serious transformation since the Grizzlies series. The Spurs eight-man rotation from the Grizzlies loss included George Hill (4th in minutes), Richard Jefferson (6th) and Antonio McDyess (8th). Danny Green and Tiago Splitter played sparingly while Matt Bonner, who played the 7th most minutes in the 2010/11 playoffs, was the 10th man in 2011/12. Three of the Spurs starters (Leonard, Green and Diaw) and one key bench player (Jackson) did not play against Memphis. Two of the bigs that played a lot and struggled do not figure to be rotation players next playoffs since one is retired (Dice) and the other is...Bonner. If I go back to the Suns series, the changes are much starker. That the transformation has gone by seamlessly is a testament to Gregg Popovich's coaching.

Yes, It is true that the core is the same and in the playoffs your best two or three players matter an inordinate amount, and it is true that Ginobili and Duncan can't play 40 minutes a game in a 7-game series. But the most common criticism lobbed to the Spurs as a postseason team, defense, has been addressed. It is too early to know for certain, but the Spurs do seem a little bit better on that side of the ball with Leonard, Green, Diaw and Jackson contributing greatly. These roster changes might not seem like that big of an upgrade, but then again the Spurs didn't need one. They did win their first 10 playoffs games last season, after all.

I am not looking for validation from the press, and I'm pretty sure the Spurs are not either. These two writers are not hacks that don't know what they are talking about; they are respected national writers that watch a ton of ball and they have my admiration. OKC and, yes, the Lakers figure to be really tough teams come playoff time, so I can understand having them ahead of our guys. But to simply dismiss the Spurs based on past failures that have a tenuous connection to the current roster is misguided. The season just began and it is up to the Spurs to show the basketball world that they are not an afterthought come playoff time. Even after last night's loss against the Clippers, I still like their chances.