Are the Spurs the best team in the NBA?
It’s probably too soon to tell, but I don’t think we can rule it out just yet. I mean, they’ve now won two whole games in a row. That’s absolutely all the evidence I need to start wildly jumping to conclusions, right?
When they lost two in a row last week (against the Lakers and the Jazz), it felt like a sure sign that the Spurs had finally succumbed to their shortcomings. They couldn’t play defense and they couldn’t score, two of main pillars of successful basketball I’m told, and they looked completely dead in the water. I was down. I was attempting to weave multiple tanking jokes into my recaps because gallows humor felt like the only natural reaction to the sudden onrush of darkness.
Now here we are, not even a week later, and the Spurs have won two in a row (against...the Lakers and the Jazz), and that attitude feels more than a little silly. Of course the Spurs are capable of playing better than they showed in those two outings. In fact, that’s likely what contributed to so much frustration. The Spurs aren’t tanking. They aren’t the 2nd worst team in the West. So why were they playing like they were? 30 point losses and 4th quarter collapses are not normal. They're disorienting and confusing and I think I just needed to them to give me some signs of life.
It’s almost comical that these four games against the same two teams yielded such drastically different results. The two bad losses didn’t mean the Spurs were on their way to the basement of the league and the two good wins don’t mean they are on their way to challenging for the three seed. Everything is relative. If we take anything from this stretch, it should probably be that this Spurs team is currently equally capable of both extremes right now and that’s the main thing that needs fixing.
Pop is always preaching consistency. That’s the goal and that’s what the Spurs are working towards at the moment. He wants his guys to play like this every night, to raise the floor and make absolutely sure that 30 point losses stay in our rear-view for the rest of the year. It’s just two wins. Two. Measly. Wins. It’s a good start, but it’s still only a start.
That being said....The Spurs are the best team in the NBA. Final Answer.
- LaMarcus Aldridge watched the entire 4th quarter of Friday’s comeback win over the Lakers from the bench. He has not had a very good season by any objective measure and his complete absence from the most electric quarter of basketball the team has played all year was pretty glaring. In light of that, it was so encouraging to watch his performance against the Jazz. The Spurs need this version of LaMarcus if they want to have any chance of building out that consistency we’re talking about. His function in the offense is to serve as a comfort blanket. He’s a secure and easy two points that the Spurs can get almost any time down the floor if they need to, which frees them up to poke and prod and find the other teams weaknesses as the game moves along. When he has has a rhythm going, like he did Sunday, it makes such a difference in how the offense flows. When he’s off his game, everything grinds to a halt and all of a sudden he’s just a 7 foot mass who’s getting in the way. The Spurs can win when Aldridge isn’t playing well, it just makes everything so much more difficult. He remains the most important bellwether for their success.
- This is probably one of the better defensive performances of the year from San Antonio. When things are going poorly on that end, they tend look jumbled or confused. It’s not like they aren’t hustling, but the ball will start moving and before you know it someone will be sitting there taking an open three and our guys are looking around at each other like, “aw, it happened again didn’t it ?” That still happened some tonight, but it happened way less! They looked like they were playing smart and communicating with each other and closing out on every Utah three point attempt. It’s almost like the Jazz hit 20 threes over them on last Tuesday and someone yelled at them a bunch.
- Marco Bellineli hit two of the more interesting shots of the night for the Spurs. In the 1st quarter, he received the ball from DeMar DeRozan as the shot clock was winding down and launched one from just inside the half court logo, his body twisting around Kyle Korver’s outstretched hand in the process. He nailed it. In the 2nd, he got the ball way out on the wing and decided he was going to drive to the basket, only, about two steps in he said to himself, “basket’s actually pretty far away, I’m just going to launch it.” So that’s what he did. He tossed up a 22-foot floater and he nailed it. He continues to be the weirdest player on the Spurs roster. (He attempted a few other off balance threes on the night....they were not worthy of a write up.)
- Rudy Gay and DeRozan chipped in with 23 and 26 points apiece. DeMar was his usual self, spinning in the lane, knocking down shots, and getting to the foul line, but Gay looked especially motivated in this game. He attacked the basket, and Rudy Gobert in particular, with vigor multiple times and he seemed confident every time he had the ball in his hands. Gay is a fascinating wrinkle the Spurs are able to throw at opposing defenses when he’s on his game. He can take advantage of teams that don’t pay attention to him and when he does demand a look he frees up a ton of space for the rest of the guys on the court.
- Derrick White didn’t score a lot tonight, but he played really great defense and had two really great dunks and I think that deserves some praise. Way to go Derrick!
- Jakob Poeltl didn’t have his fellow budding superstar, Davis Bertans, out there with him Sunday night and I think it showed. He didn’t quite have the same explosive energy on offense, but he continued to put in work on the glass and do bunch of little things on defense. His positioning and rim protection really act as an anchor whenever he’s on the floor and it makes a huge difference. I’d also like to point out this play in the 4th quarter where, after muscling Gobert and Ricky Rubio out of the way to collect a rebound, he then drew a dang double team and then found a streaking Gay for a dunk. I’m going to start petitioning the PtR powers that be for a Poeltl Passing Out of a Double Team shirt pretty soon, so keep an eye out for that.