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The Spurs' excellence turns foes into fans

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Chauncey Billups admits his admiration for the Spurs and San Antonio trounces a beat-up Detroit squad.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

During a recent phone interview I was fortunate enough to be a part of, veteran Detroit Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups was asked if he was surprised by the longevity of the Spurs Big Three. Here's his reply:

I think they've just done a brilliant job of not only keeping those guys at a high level, but just filling other pieces ... that's what they've done and that's what they continue to do. What they did this summer, getting LaMarcus Aldridge, it just reminds me of getting Tim Duncan. LaMarcus Aldridge was one of the top ... men in the league. You've got him coming to the Spurs, he has to ... do it the Spurs' way.

There is a culture there and they've set a standard there, and they have the best coach in basketball who is going to make sure that happens. I mean, it's beautiful to me on what they've been able to do. I always said losing Game 7 in The Finals to them was the darkest day of my career. It was really, really tough. And I always said I had this respectful hate for the Spurs because they're so damn good. You know what I'm saying?

They're so damn good... that's why I root for them.

Since San Antonio's 4-3 Finals victory, the endurance and longevity of the Spurs Big Three is unparalleled:

Beauty doesn't last forever. Age fades into a wrinkled reminder of what once was. Statues erected by past glories erode in the present.

Some franchises rely too heavily on the glories of yesteryear (LA and Philly, I'm looking at you.) R.C. Buford and the FO have taken precautionary measures to make sure this never happens; if the veteran Big Three smolders into ashes, the organization has nurtured the phoenix of a new Big Three to arise from the old one, supporting the creation by - as Chauncey said - "filling the other pieces." A few years ago, Buford began sketching out the plans to transition the end of an era into a new one, moving seamlessly into playoff contention without having to pick up the the pieces of a former San Antonio empire.

In a win against Detroit on Wednesday, the Spurs showcased their evolving franchise on every part of the court.

Kawhi Leonard is growing comfortable in his role as the face of the franchise, spinning and draining fadeaway midrange jumpers. Leonard's 3-point percentage - which was a decent .370 over four seasons - has jumped to a remarkable .488 this year to lead the NBA.

LMA has adapted to the San Antonio system, and has averaged 20.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in the last month. He finished the Detroit game with 23 points and 10 boards, posting up beautifully in the paint against Tobias Harris, and dominating match-ups against any stretch four or five that Van Gundy put in his way.

Tony Parker had 10 points (4/7 fm) and four assists, and is still a viable scoring threat and facilitator when needed. The supporting cast continues to impress as the number one ranked bench in the league, currently shooting 49.5% with a 50.4 efficiency rating.

The game against Detroit was a matchup of a franchise maintaining their peak, while the other undergoes yet another rebuilding process. San Antonio improved to six in a row while averaging 107 points. They won 26 of last 29 games against Detroit while improving to 29-0 at home this year.

The Spurs earned a playoff spot for the 19th consecutive season, tying the fourth-longest playoff streak in NBA history, equaling the reign by Boston (1951-69). The Spurs are the seventh fastest team to pass the 50-win mark in NBA history, and their 29-0 home start is the third highest, behind the '95-'96 Orlando Magic (33-0) and the '95-'96 Chicago Bulls (37-0).

Chauncey declared "Let's go Detroit" during halftime coverage for ESPN, staying true to the team he won a ring with, but even a moment of playing the homer couldn't stop him from acknowledging the beauty in San Antonio's continued excellence.

MVP

Kawhi Leonard

After he was held to 3-of-19 shooting in his last two games against Detroit, Kawhi was able to drain 17 points by the half; he scored 27 points overall, contributing five assists and six boards. Leonard got some inspiration after visiting kids at the Ronald McDonald House the night before. I was standing next to him as he played NBA 2K16 with some of the patients, and selected Miami vs. San Antonio. Fun fact: he played as Miami, lobbing shots that were impossible to hit, likely reminiscing on the glories of his Finals MVP past.

Media Notes

  • Prior to the game, Manu Ginobili conducted an impromptu press conference. The Spurs sixth man announced he was cleared to return and was looking forward to competing next week. Ginobili hasn't played since February 3rd and was previously scheduled to return in 4-6 weeks.

  • On Monday, Popovich & Co. celebrated their homecoming by volunteering at the fifth annual "Champions Against Hunger". The initiative was created by the San Antonio Food Bank. For Lorne Chan's excellent coverage on the event - including choice quotes by Popovich - click here.

  • The Spurs annual Rodeo Road Trip was 6,514 miles, crossed six different states, and spanned over three time zones.

  • Former Spur Aron Baynes was nearly unrecognizable, sporting a full beard. It was the Detroit big's first game at the AT & T Center since signing with the Pistons over the summer. The crowd greeted Baynes with an ovation; he finished with 12 points and six rebounds off the bench.

  • Since being acquired from Orlando, Tobias Harris is averaging 16.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in seven games with Detroit. He finished tonight with 16 points, four assists, and six rebounds. Harris is a pupil of George "The Iceman" Gervin and has worked with him since he was 13. Harris' father, Torrel Harris, is Gervin's agent.

By the Numbers

39: Andre Miller's age. The oldest player on the Spurs roster made his debut tonight at the end of third. Miller ranks ninth in NBA history in assists (8,495).

100: the 54th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain reaching the century mark.

2: the remaining players on the Detroit roster since Stan Van Gundy took over. Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the only original members left after Van Gundy got the HC job in 2014.

38: the free-throw percentage of Andre Drummond. The mark is the worst of all time.

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