"Consider the subtleness of the Western Conference; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the Western Conference; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile Eastern Conference; consider them both, the West and the East; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling West adjoins the verdant East, so in the soul of man there lies one insular (insert Eastern Conference team here), full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick (sort of)
Parallels between 19th-century literature and modern-day sports might raise a dubious eyebrow or two, but take a few liberties with an old classic and someone like Herman Melville can quite easily supplant one of our writers below (a few of whom we're still waiting on) as a league expert.
Golden State leads the way in the West (and tops most power rankings) thanks to an impressive 12-game winning streak, but even they have no room to let up. The Warriors aren't likely to flame out like the Blazers did after their hot start, but with a mere 2 1/2 games separating one from seven, the top teams in the West will continue to jockey for position, like barnacles against a jagged seaside rock.
And then there's Oklahoma City, collecting itself like a giant wave ready to crash against them all.
Like an old man sending soup back at the deli, the Western sea is about to get angry with San Antonio. The Silver and Black have a few more soft games this week before setting their course towards the dark skies of their late-December schedule.
Technically the madness starts with next Monday's tilt against Portland, but I'm shoehorning in the Denver game the night before as it kicks off a back-to-back that finishes against Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and company.
And that's just the first of four back-to-backs that San Antonio will have before they can say goodbye to 2014. No win will come easy, and these games will surely inform playoff seeding in some way come April.
With Tiago Splitter's potential return this week, the team will hopefully have all hands on deck sooner rather than later, which will mean a lighter load for the Big Three. Until then, the team will prepare to have its mettle tested as they approach the end of the calendar year.
Marc Stein from ESPN, (Spurs rank: 2, last week's rank: 3)
Road wins over the Warriors and Grizzlies? Let's see how many teams will be able to make that claim by season's end. With Tiago Splitter said to be nearing his return, keep in mind Splitter, Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard and the famed Tim/Tony/Manu trio have already combined to miss 46 games.
Drew Garrison from SBNation NBA (Spurs rank: 4, last week's rank: 3)
San Antonio dropped one to the Nets in overtime, but Tim Duncan's triple-double performance in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies was enough to keep San Antonio in the top five comfortably. Now let's talk about passes. Specifically, how they're not all created equally... San Antonio moves the ball with purpose. They're the only team in the top five of passes per game with a top-10 offensive rating, mostly because their passes lead to shot opportunities. Amazingly, three of the teams represented here have bottom-10 offensive ratings.
Mark J. Spears from Yahoo! Sports (Spurs rank: 2, last week's rank: 4)
Center Tiago Splitter (calf), who has only played 10 minutes this season, could return Tuesday at Utah.
USA Today (Spurs rank: 4, last week's rank: 5)
Ageless Tim Duncan followed his historic triple-double with a double-double the next day.
John Schuhmann from NBA.com (Spurs rank: 2, last week's rank: 3)
They came up empty in Brooklyn on Wednesday, but the Spurs have scored 112 points per 100 possessions over their last 10 games, up from 99 in their first 10. The big difference has been 3-point shooting (32 percent in the first 10, 43 percent in the last 10). Tiago Splitter could return this week, in time to keep Tim Duncan's minutes from hitting 30 per game.
Matt Moore from CBSSports.com (Spurs rank: 4, last week's rank: 5)
It's pretty incredible. When the Spurs struggle -- and they did struggle the first three weeks -- they never self-reflect or go down an existential crisis, like some teams. They get cranky, they improve, they start winning again. It's all so low-key.