1 - The playoffs are nearing and Patty Mills is struggling. Should Cory Joseph leapfrog him in the rotation?
Michael Erler: I think so. Joseph does literally everything better except shoot threes, and this season he's even doing that better. You can argue that Mills spaces the floor better and that's important. Also, Joseph's confidence seems to be shot now that he's lost his rotation spot. He's missing easy layups all of a sudden. My guess is that Pop will continue to start with Mills and then switch to Joseph in second halves if he struggles. I doubt he'll make the switch unless it continues on in the playoffs.
Chris Itz: That's the big question. CoJo was so good when he was given consistent minutes while Patty was out that it's easy to say that the Canadian should get the struggling Australian's minutes. I was happy when the front office decided to give the whole team a shot at repeating and I'm glad that Pop is still giving Patty the chance to break out of his funk, after all, every player that has come back from injury this season has taken a while to regain their form. Sure, it's taken Mills longer than most, but remember what was being said about Tiago Splitter just a couple of weeks ago. I'm optimistic that Patty will find the magic that made him such a key cog for the team last season.
Bruno Passos: Cory's shooting better from three this season than Patty, which was always the main case for the Aussie over the Canadian. Still, he remains a bigger threat and stretches defenses, and I have to think he'll get his swagger back.
Jesus Gomez: No, I don't think so. Joseph has been better than I ever thought he would but if the Spurs hope to get close to playing like last season they will need to have as many shooters on the floor as possible. And Joseph, for all his strengths, is not a shooter.
J.R. Wilco: The best version of the Spurs has an in-sync Mills backing up Parker, and that's Pop's preference. As long as that's a possibility, we'll see Mills given all the minutes he needs as he searches for his groove. How long that will be, I have no idea. But if Patty can't find his form, there will be a time when Pop will go to Joseph -- and Cory has shown the ability to step in at a moment's notice.
2 - Tiago Splitter has been playing great recently and has the team's highest net rating. Has he finally become one of the Spurs' five best/most important players?
Erler: It depends on who the opponent is. I think the big four are pretty constant and after that the fifth swings between Green, Splitter and Diaw, in that order. Right now the way the starting lineup is playing, it can be argued they're the most important five, but against teams like the Warriors, Thunder and Cavs? That's not the case.
Itz: Yes ... assuming the player that we've seen over the past two weeks is the player that Splitter can consistently be. If he, like the Spurs this season, sees more ups and downs, then it's a game-by-game thing. I'd say that on most nights he's between the second and sixth most important player for the team.
Passos: I think so. We know what value he brings to the defensive end, but his play on the other end is what's made the bigger difference. He uses constant activity on the offensive end to make up for (and make the most of) a limited skillset, while the offense is doing him favors by getting the ball to him in great spots.
Gomez: Yes, but only because Diaw has been a disaster for the majority of the year. I think Splitter is underrated on both ends and would start in the majority of teams in the league. Yet Diaw was so huge for the Spurs last season and makes such an impact when he plays well that if he regains his past form, Tiago goes back to being sixth (sorry Danny!).
Wilco: The fact that we're even discussing this is a win for the team. Flash back to the summer after the Spurs re-signed him and remember all of the people who were upset that PATFO has spent so much on him. Now we're at the point of wondering if he's second only to the Big Four -- no matter how you slice it, that's awesome.
3 - Duncan's numbers are way down across the board in March. Is he coasting or is fatigue affecting him?
Erler: A bit of both. He hasn't been as needed with Leonard and Parker taking off and Splitter and Diaw being more productive. The Spurs have also been winning by so many points that he's sat out a lot of fourth quarters. I'm not worried about him at all, even though the jumper is wonky again.
Itz: Look, there is no way that I can even pretend to be objective about my all-time favorite player and I'll admit to not actually looking at the numbers, but it'll take more than a month of stats to convince me that the most consistent player of all time is slipping. I'll say this -- it wouldn't surprise me if Tim is a little worn down, but I fully expect that the legend will be boggling our minds with his play come mid-April.
Passos: I wouldn't call it coasting, but teammates have definitely picked up the slack for Tim, who was simply carrying way too big a load earlier. We'll see a spike in the playoffs -- count on it.
Gomez: I was not worried at all until the Dallas game. I thought the Spurs needed to slow the pace and set up Duncan but he missed the few shots he took and wasn't looking spry. At the same time, he had been on cruise control for a few games so it's understandable for him to not be on "take over" mode. I think he will be fine.
Wilco: The first player Pop wants to give extra rest to in a blowout is Duncan, and even if he's on the court, if the rest of the team is killing it, then Tim's content to take a back seat. I'm going with coasting, without a doubt. The alternative is too depressing to contemplate.
4 - The Warriors are having a historically great season, by the numbers. Are they as good as the stats suggest?
Erler: Nobody is that good. They've taken advantage of extraordinary health, with only Andrew Bogut missing some time and Klay Thompson a few games. Everyone else in the league has been hit harder. They're gonna be the favorites going in for sure, but I don't see them on the same plane as the 1996 Bulls or anything.
Itz: It's hard to say. I know that their margin of victory pretty much suggests that they should be the overwhelming favorites to win the title, but teams that didn't advance into the second round the season before rarely, if ever, win the whole thing the next season. They've been as good as the stats suggest during the regular season, but I can't call them the favorites without some post-season success. Plus, I don't think that so much undeserved cockiness is going to be rewarded by the basketball gods.
Passos: There will be a return to the mean in some way. There has to be. Whether the shots don't fall quite so easily or (and I'm not hoping for this, but...) players aren't as healthy. I don't think they'll be as dominant come playoff time. Either way, they're having one heck of a season.
Gomez: I fear they might be, in which case, game over, man. Game over. I didn't believe the numbers really reflected how good they were in January but it's March now and they still dominate. I would feel a lot better if the Spurs defeat them in their upcoming matchup but right now I'm not sure anyone can beat them in a seven-game series.
Wilco: They've won the regular season, that's for sure. Just one look at the point differential they've accumulated and you see how impressively they've been winning games during the first 82. They play defense, so their case for being able to play into the playoffs is much better than for a team who cruised through the regular season merely by being great at scoring. I think they're a very good team. We'll see how great they are as the postseason wears on.
5- With the Hawks not looking as dominant as early in the season, are the Cavaliers the new front-runners to come out of the East?
Erler: Yes and no. Against everyone else the Cavs seem the safer bet, but in a head-to-head matchup the Hawks seem to have Cleveland's number. They just give them fits on both ends. Maybe this is generalizing, but for whatever reason LeBron James' teams really seem to struggle historically with opponents who share the ball and shoot threes. Teams that try to "out-athlete" his teams never win. I just don't know if the Hawks can survive the first two rounds to get to Cleveland. Also, I'm still stubbornly holding out hope for the Bulls. On paper they have the best team. If they can ever get everyone healthy and going...
Itz: I hate to say it, but yeah, I think so. Atlanta has been a lot of fun to watch this season, but unless they find the groove that produced 33 wins in 35 games it seems that the Cavs will pretty much waltz into the Finals.
Passos: Yes. They always had the firepower, but the Twitter drama and lack of defensive cohesion made us forget how much more talented they are than teams like Atlanta.
Gomez: Yes, but there's another factor to it: The Bulls. Atlanta will play a terrible team in the first round and one of the slumping Wizards or Raptors before reaching the East finals.The Cavaliers will have to go through the Bulls and could be banged up when they meet the Hawks, who also give them fits. The Cavaliers are the front-runners but are not a lock.
Wilco: Sure, but since when has being a front-runner helped anyone? Atlanta hasn't been in their best form since they started resting guys. I expect Coach Bud to have a dialed-in Hawks team ready to make noise as soon as the playoffs begin.