As the Spurs gear up to play the Bulls tonight, most fans and analysts are already looking ahead to the Western Conference Finals. At 54-10, and already having clinched a playoff berth, the Spurs appear all but destined to face the Warriors in a battle between two historically good teams. And while it's fun to talk about this potential series, it's not in the DNA of Coach Pop and the Spurs to worry about other teams.
In late 2014, Coach Popovich was asked about the then Rajon Rondo led Celtics. He answered:
I don't see any reason to watch film. When my team has a game and [they] have zero turnovers and shoot 60 percent, and the other team scores 40, then I'll start worrying about the other teams. But until that happens, I've got enough to correct and teach on my team, and that's how I spend my time.
One of the assistants will tell me something. I believe whatever they tell me. So if they say, ‘we're gonna do this on the pick-and-roll,' I say, ‘OK,' or ‘I don't know if I want to do that,' and then you go play. I mean, have you seen a secret play lately? Or a new pick-and-roll defense? Or some new amazing continuity offense that nobody can guard? It's the same stuff every night. Whoever executes the best; whoever is the most competitive and does both on a consistent basis for more of the 48 [minutes], that's the team that wins. Take it to the bank.
The Spurs have built a culture of winning through discipline, work ethic, excellent coaching, ball movement, and defensive prowess. They haven't made 19 straight playoff appearances by adapting to their nightly opponents and changing their identity based on who they may be playing in the future.
Given the Warriors' dominance, it's fun to speculate about a Warriors/Spurs Western Conference Finals. But analysts and fans are kidding themselves if they think that Coach Pop and the Spurs and preparing for that at this point.
It's easy to forget that the Spurs lost in the first-round last year to the Clippers, a potential Western Conference Semi-Finals opponent (if the Clippers pass the Thunder). As of today, the Spurs would face the the Thunder in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, a team that gave them an incredible series in 2014 (even though Serge Ibaka missed the first two games). And even before that, their first-round opponent is potentially Dallas, a team that that took San Antonio to seven games in 2014 and is as well coached as anyone.
With 18 games to go, the Spurs have a lot to fine-tune. Ginobili is just returning from injury, Andre Miller and Kevin Martin are new additions who need to find their roles, and the Spurs have three more tests against the Warriors to evaluate where they stand. Even though Coach Pop has previously used some pretty extreme language about Golden State, I expect him to continue using the philosophy that has brought him 5 titles: Worry about the Spurs.