Playoffs Set: Spurs Suns Set to Battle
With the regular season in the books, the Spurs can focus their energy on that time of the season when they typically turn their game up a notch and focus just a bit more. San Antonio ended the regular season tied for first place in their division with New Orleans with a 56-26 record. In the Western Division, the two teams finished one game back of the LA Lakers.
The Spurs quest to defend their title will start off against the rival Suns. Last year, the series was a hard-fought battle that featured suspensions, hard fouls, and harder feelings. The Celtics still look like the team to beat overall, having won 66 games and winning the East by 7 games, but the Lakers have closed the season on a good note, and will be a tough out in the West.
The Spurs ended the season fairly average, having won 3 of the last 5, but Spurs fans might not be sleeping easily considering who the two losses were to, and by how much. On April 9, Phoenix paid a visit to San Antonio in what would be a warm up to the first round of the playoffs, and left with a 96-79 victory. While Tim Duncan and Tony Parker played well, only one other player, Michael Finley, managed to score in double digits for the Spurs. For Phoenix, 6 players scored 10 or more points, and the Suns defense held San Antonio to just a bit over 20% from behind the arc, and out-rebounded San Antonio as well.
Two nights later, the Spurs got some revenge of their own when the Supersonics came to town. The Spurs took out some frustrations against one of the worst teams in the league, beating them 95-74 behind Tony Parker’s 20 points, and 7 assists.
Up next for San Antonio was a trip to LA to face the Lakers, who are the class of the Western Conference, and the owners of the number one seed. The trip was not kind to the Spurs, as they suffered a 21 points loss, 106-85. Tony Parker led the team with a 20 point, 7 rebound effort , but it wasn’t enough. Tim Duncan scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but was countered by Lamar Odom’s 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Also on their west coast swing, the Spurs also faced Sacramento, and fared better against them than in the previous game. Although it was close, the Spurs managed to split the last road trip of the regular season by beating the Kings, 101-98. Tony Parker kept his play at a high level, scoring 32 points and dishing out 11 assists, and Michael Finley and Duncan both added 19. Ex-Spurs guard, Beno Udrih, scored 16 in the contest.
The Western Conference was perhaps the most competitive in the history of the NBA with only 7 games separating the first seed from the last. In the East, for comparison, Boston finished 29 games ahead of Atlanta, who was the eighth seed. If San Antonio is to defend their championship this year, they will certainly have their work cut out for them. Just to show how competitive the West was, Golden State missed the playoffs with a 48-34 record. Atlanta finished with a record of 37-45. It looks as if the Western title is up for grabs, and anyone has a shot at winning it.
The Spurs always ratchet things up in the post-season, and they will have their work cut out for them right off the bat. Phoenix has added Shaq since last year, and Amare Stoudamire has been playing well since that trade. The Spurs are healthy, having overcome injuries to what seems like every major player on their team, at some point during the year. If the Spurs are to win it all again, they will have to once again rely on defense, veteran leadership and experience, and their big three, Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker to play hard, smart, and unselfish, as they did last year when they won it all.