I'm an only child.
I say this not to brag about growing up with my own room – and my very own Power Rangers Megazord toy – but to draw a parallel between the privileged upbringing of an only child and the mindset of a Duncan-era Spurs fan: we're spoiled.
It doesn't matter how old you really are. Shoot, you could be in your sixties with memories that stretch back to the ABA days, but as a Golden-Age Spurs fan, you're sixteen-years old, and you're not very good at being told "no". Michael Erler's excellent Rehash of the Suns game made this point pretty evident – not in how different he sounded from the average fan, but in how he echoed what all of us more or less feel after such an ugly loss.
The Spurs are coming off an unsavory 21-point defeat at the hands of the Suns, capping off a 6-3 Rodeo Road Trip that the team limped through every step of the (nearly 9,000-mile) way. The nature of that loss -- which saw an early lead squandered through a seemingly endless series of bricks, turnovers and missed rotations -- has soured many on what was actually a positive three-game series coming out of the All-Star break.
A severely depleted San Antonio team stole road games against the Clippers and Blazers -- yes, the same Portland team that's beaten the Spurs something like 10 out of the last 14 meetings. In fact, the Silver and Black's struggles against teams like Portland and LAC is what had been their biggest criticism this year: the inability to beat the league's small crop of contenders. Here, they had just beaten two of the few teams people think can go far this year, but that last loss to Phoenix -- in a game where the team was still playing without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard -- could be what lingers on many fans' palates.
But this is exactly what so many fans have been wanting all season long.
When the Spurs were winning every game they had against inferior opponents, that was when they couldn't get over the hump with a win against a contender. Not a single one. As this went on, over and over the complaint was raised by one Spurs fan after another, "I'd trade a loss against one of these teams we've been beating up on for just one win against a contender, just so that I don't have to hear anything else about how the Spurs can't beat the elite this year."
Well, here it is, Spurs fans. Wins over Portland and Los Angeles (the L.A. team that matters this year) have gotten that big hairy loss-monkey off of San Antonio's collective back. And in the trade that the fan-base was actually calling for (Sorry about that Mr. Daye) the next game was a blowout at the hands of Goran Dragic's Suns. Hope that works for you, because I think it's a pretty fair swap.
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While we wait for the team to return to #FullSquadStatus, there are some things we learned that SA will carry with them into the playoffs.
One, the bench is a force – a proven commodity that will be able to carry the team when needed. The Spurs' second unit is the best in the league at scoring, and it's not even close. The team is getting eight more points per game from its reserves than it did last year. Patty Mills' recent explosions will only put more pressure on defenses, while giving Pop (and fans) another guy to trust with the ball in his hands.
Two, the team, including the aforementioned bench, will improve substantially with consistent rotations in place. The lineups that Pop's been rolling out have been a product of next-man-up necessity. We won't always be counting on Cory Joseph to start, or Shannon Brown to, well, be a Spur. San Antonio will be a truly dangerous team when it has all its weapons at its disposal.
Three, Austin Daye. Just kidding.
At this point we know that the Spurs aren't likely to reel off a big winning streak like Houston or Golden State. Their stars don't have the legs for it and, really, it's not an accomplishment that would mean anything to either the players or the coach. What we can expect more of is a masterful coaching job, and some gutsy performances that will have the Spurs ready to compete come the playoffs.
Two out of three wins ain't bad in the regular season, and it's certainly not bad when it comes to three Western Conference playoff teams. Six out of nine is pretty good, too, especially given the lineups Pop's had to suture together due to injuries. The team may very well need three out of three – Tony, Tim, and Manu (and then some) – in a few months. Until then, I'll enjoy being spoiled a little longer.