With the All-Star break behind us and the playoffs looming straight ahead, the Spurs are in for quite the test if they are to supply the San Antonio faithful with a repeat of last year’s Finals run.
As I see it, the Spurs have the team they need for a deep playoff run, but three things need to happen first to ensure that a chance for the title is even a possibility.
1. Get healthy.
Injuries have, and will remain to be, the biggest challenge that the Spurs face this year. With an aging core lineup of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili and prolonged injuries to young stars Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, team health is a must as the season comes to a close.
Coming into Tuesday night, Leonard and Splitter are still doubtful for return and recent developments have put Tony Parker out as well “for the foreseeable future.” Though all three players were rumored to be ready to go after the All-Star break, don’t take their extended absences too heavily.
With the team’s necessity to bring everyone back to 100% by playoffs, the extra rest also becomes necessity. Don’t worry too much about the length of injuries until the last couple of weeks of play are at our doorstep.
2. Secure first round home court.
Nothing is guaranteed in the West this year. With the current eight-seed being the high-potent offensive-minded Golden State Warriors, it is easy to predict that playoff match-ups will be any but a guaranteed win this season.
With that being said, the home court advantage could still be very beneficial, especially to the Spurs. With their aging bodies, the 2-2-1-1-1 home-away travel schedule of a 7-game playoff series can take a serious toll on the body. Limiting travel time was a crucial component of last year’s run, winning at home eight of ten times, of which four games helped secure a series sweep (resulting in much-needed rest).
Three out of four of the lower seeds in the Western Conference are almost guaranteed to be highly offensive-oriented teams (Dallas, Golden State, Phoenix and/or Houston, Portland), so a rowdy and wild AT&T playoff atmosphere will only help in subduing hot shooting performances.
San Antonio currently sits in the 2-seed, but the 3-5 seeds are close on their heels. With continued, consistent wins, however, securing home court is completely manageable.
3. Finish strong.
This is a key factor for any team pushing for the playoffs, but still crucial nonetheless. When the Spurs have a streak going, they are nearly impossible to stop.
The current injuries should help the role players establish themselves as options within the team dynamic by garnering some confidence with the extra play time, only adding to the late push needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Spurs system is set up to allow anyone to score at any time, then to play off whoever is hot on a particular night, so with added confidence and experience now, any of the 9-10 rotation players in the playoffs could step up to help edge out a tough victory.
The match-ups in the playoffs are going to be killer this year, but with a steady plan of attack and veteran leadership, all signs point to another title push from the Spurs.