December is over. The Spurs made it through with an 8-10 record, their worst for any month in the Duncan era. The seventh seed San Antonio currently occupies in the West reflects the struggles and, should the season end today, would have them facing the 26-7 Portland Trail Blazers. As kind as the first part of 2014 was for the Spurs, the second half has been unrelentingly negative, with a slew of injuries and heartbreaking losses preventing them from ever gaining momentum as they faced a ridiculously hard schedule.
Fortunately, the year is over.
The Spurs went 2-1 this week, with the loss coming at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies and the wins against the Pelicans in overtime (the fifth game of the season in which extra time was needed for San Antonio and their first win in OT) and against the Wizards. With Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard still out with injuries and Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili unable to sustain their usual levels, surely as a result of extended minutes, the Spurs had to resort to some unlikely heroes. Cory Joseph was the week's MVP averaging 15.3 points on 65.6 percent from the floor while Marco Belinelli contributed 13.3 points. The threes didn't fall and neither did the free throws but the Spurs found a way to get some much needed Ws.
Now the schedule gets more forgiving, with the Spurs currently enjoying a two-day break before facing the suddenly rising Pistons (5-0 after waiving Josh Smith) on Tuesday, a night in which Tony Parker might return. Two days of rest follow that game before back-to-back bouts with the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves. A perfect week would go a long way towards improving the Spurs' place in the standings and in the power rankings.
Before checking what our experts have to say, here's a song that illustrates the Spurs' mood over the past few weeks. Press play and feel free to join in on the chorus, screaming "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me" at the top of your lungs while you read.
Marc Stein from ESPN, (Spurs rank 7. Last week's rank: 9)
You've all heard the stat by now, but it still bears repeating because of the rarity of it all: San Antonio's 8-10 record in December marked just the third losing month in Tim Duncan's career. Pop said early on that it was the worst month he'd ever seen, schedulewise; five OT games didn't hurt his case.
Drew Garrison, from SB Nation NBA, (Spurs rank 9. Last week's rank: 10)
It's strange to see the Spurs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, but a lot of this can be chalked up to injuries, rest and the usual Spurs-ian regular season pacing. These aren't your NBA-best 62-20 Spurs from last season, at least not yet.
Marc J. Spears, from Yahoo Sports, (Spurs rank 12. Last week's rank: 11)
In his past three games, Tim Duncan is averaging 9.7 points on 12-of-27 shooting from the field with just five free throws made.
USA Today, (Spurs rank 11. Last Week's rank: 12)
Tony Parker returns, but what does that mean for much-improved replacement Cory Joseph?
John Schuhmann of NBA.com, (Spurs rank 7. Last week's rank: 9)
Cory Joseph is playing the best basketball of his career, Patty Mills just played his best game since returning to action last weekend, and the Spurs had one of their best offensive games of the season against a top-five defense. But they're just 7-7 without Tony Parker, so they'll gladly welcome his return, which could come Tuesday against the Pistons.
Matt Moore, from CBS Sports, (Spurs rank 14. Last week's rank 13)
Just be aware. They're coming. That black cloud on the horizon is the Spurs, and they are coming to wipe out the sun for the Western Conference as they have every year. Tony Parker will get back, Kawhi Leonard will get back, and they will be right there again when the dust settles. The wins this week over New Orleans and Washington were a turning point. The Spurs are coming.