The Spurs followed up a Tuesday loss to the Wiz (stopping by the White House on the way) with three wins against the Hornets, Blazers and Jazz, closing the week out with a still-seventh-in-the-West 26-16 record. However confidence in the team is definitely on the rise after those last two wins which, buoyed by the return of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, were two of the most impressive victories this season.
In case you haven't heard, the Spurs are a much better team with Whi on the floor. The plus-minus numbers dropped below speak for themselves, but watching them play is even better. Kawhi leaves a huge void in the starting lineup, and there's simply no one on the team that can pick up opposing wings like he can. Just ask Gordon Hayward or Wesley Matthews, who dealt with him last week.
The big game this week is a Thursday nighter in Chicago. They won't likely have Joakim Noah, and the play of Jimmy Butler (still only the second-best Jimmy to pick up a basketball) has dropped a bit, but it'll still be a challenge to take on a rested Bulls team at home.
Marc Stein, from ESPN, (Spurs rank 5. Last week's rank: 7)
So much talk about the Thunder looming as the Most Feared No. 8 Seed Ever. What about the Spurs? Imagine if they held firm at No. 7. You saw over the weekend what they're capable of now that Kawhi Leonard is back; it would truly be the most fearsome bottom end of a playoff bracket in history.
Drew Garrison, from SB Nation NBA, (Spurs rank 8. Last week's rank: 10)
Kawhi Leonard is back in the Spurs' lineup, which means no more excuses for San Antonio's so-so season. Leonard's return has paid immediate dividends, as his on-court offensive rating (117.2) and defensive rating (88.2) show. San Antonio's starting lineup (Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Leonard, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter) outscored opponents by 15.9 points per 100 possessions in Leonard's two games back, according to NBA.com.
Marc J. Spears, from Yahoo Sports, (Spurs rank 8. Last week's rank: 10)
The Spurs added a versatile scoring forward in D-League Austin's JaMychal Green, who was getting interest from other teams.
USA Today, (Spurs rank 9. Last week's rank: 11)
Standing pat can be as risky as adding new pieces. With their first-half injuries, reinforcements would have helped.
John Schuhmann, from NBA.com, (Spurs rank 3. Last week's rank: 4)
Kawhi Leonard (20 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals) looked pretty good in his return, helping the Spurs beat the Blazers on Friday. The Spurs are 14-4 (6-2 vs. teams currently over .500) with Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and they've allowed 9.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor than with him off it.
Matt Moore, from CBS Sports, (Spurs rank 3. Last week's rank: 8)
Yes, that's right. I'm jumping them all the way up here. With Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are plus-12.7 per 100 possessions, and 16-7 overall. Without Leonard, they are a little less than one point worse than their opponent, and went 7-8 without him during his most recent absence. Turns out the Finals MVP helps.