Another banner year?
A look back at the first-half of the San Antonio Spurs season
SAN ANTONIO – The Spurs season began long before the tip-off in October. Off season roster changes provided hope for a team that finished the previous season third in the Southwest Division, got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, one year removed from its last championship.
With so many new players, logic said the Spurs would struggle while learning how to work as a team.
But as the team enters the All-Star weekend, the NBA’s unofficial halfway point, the Spurs are in many cases, shattering traditional logic.
They are defending a regular season home win streak that dates back over a year. At 37 games and counting, dating back to last season, it is the sixth-best streak in NBA history.
The off-season started with a tweet that, as many would say, changed how this season would play out.
LaMarcus Aldridge posted to social media that he was San Antonio-bound.
In nine years with the Portland Trailblazers, he averaged 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, nearly 2 assists in 35 minutes per game.
Speaking on a radio show after the deal was signed, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said,” Obviously, to add a talent like that to one’s team makes it special situation,” Pop said. “I am just going to sit back and watch him to begin with to make sure I don’t screw him up.”
The Spurs also re-signed Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green while Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili agreed to return to make a run at another championship.
The Spurs wrapped up the off-season with the signing of David West, and many observers declared the Spurs the team who made the best improvements coming into the new season.
On media day, when asked about his excitement about the upcoming season, Tony Parker made a keen observation, “It is always exciting when you get new players, and obviously we have a lot of expectations now. (I) never saw this many people on Spurs day.”
By opening night, it was clear the wind still blew in Oklahoma. Despite a career-high 32 points from Leonard and 11 more from Aldridge, the new look Spurs lost on the road to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 112-106.
But if the team looked nervous, they certainly did not show it.
The Spurs rebounded in game two of the season, the first at home, with a victory over the Brooklyn Nets. The silver and black also got to show off a refreshed AT&T Center after a $110 million dollar facelift during the off-season.
And by the third game of the season Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker made history. With a win over the Boston Celtics, the Spurs big three surpassed Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Robert Parish with 540 wins as a trio.
"We knew it was going to happen eventually unless we had a terrible season, 0-82, but of course it feels great," said Ginobili.
A quick coalescence of the team showed just how powerful they had become. "Just how fast we have kind of jelled together more than anything," Duncan said. "I think we still have some growing pains to deal with, go through the ups and downs."
Fifty games in, the Spurs rattled off winning streaks of eight and 13 games and sat at 45-8 by the All-Star break.
Five of the teams eight losses came by six points or less. More impressive for a team touted for its defense, the silver and black won 17 games by 20 points or more.
"Each games gets better,” Aldridge said early the season. “I think it is a process for all of us, how to use me.”
One of the victories also made history, when the Spurs routed the 76ers on Dec. 7, 119-68; the largest margin of victory in Spurs history.
A little more than a week later, with a 118-81 win over the Utah Jazz, Popovich passed Rick Adelman for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time coaching win list with his 1,043 victory.
That same month, Popvich was awarded Coach of the Month honors after the team finished 15-2. "It is always difficult to keep a large lead in the NBA. When you do it is a good indication that everybody was right on target," Popovich said.
The new year simply became another day for the Spurs. As January progressed, so did the team’s momentum.
In the midst of a 13-game winning streak, the team faced the Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champs, in California on Jan. 25.
The Western Conference showdown was one of the most anticipated regular season games in years, but without Tim Duncan playing, the Warriors dismantled the Spurs, 120-90.
“No moment is too big, obviously,” said Steph Curry, after the game. “We know this is just another regular-season game, but there was some hype around it. Every time we have an opportunity to prove who we are and take another step in our journey, we are ready for it.”
Ginobili said the Spurs were outplayed in every aspect, while Popovich had nothing but praise for Warrior head coach, and former Spurs player, Steve Kerr.
“Steve’s a different animal. He exudes a lot of confidence and he instills it. A lot of people cannot do that. There is no formula for it,” he said.
Whether the team’s confidence was shaken or the absence of team-veteran Duncan was that noticeable, the Spurs lost just five days later to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But before the lose to the Cavs, future NBA Hall of Famer LeBron James took to his Instagram account and praised another man who he will eventually share Hall of Fame space with, Tim Duncan.
In words that softened even the most jaded James opponents, he said, “The consistency you have shown over the years goes unmatched and as a competitor it’s always a treat to be on the same floor as you,” James praised Duncan’s character. “Being a professional (professionalism) is so overlooked in our sport but I always knew who I could look to if I ever wasn’t professional about this lovely game and that You.”
In the midst of the rodeo road-trip the Spurs are 2-0, with wins over Miami and Orlando.
The team entered the annual expedition without two key players. Ginobili was benched after surgery in early February when he suffered a groin injury. Meanwhile, Duncan continued to rest a sore right knee.
Heading into All-Star weekend, the Spurs won’t get much rest. Popovich and staff will coach the Western Conference squad in the game on Sunday.
Another moment of history will happen at the game when Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon will become the first woman to coach in an All-Star game.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard will also play in the game.
With a 12-game lead, the Spurs are likely to win the Southwest Division, but the Spurs have several big games on the horizon in the second-half of the season. The silver and black still have two games against the Thunder, Clippers and Memphis, and three against the defending champions Golden State
With their sights set, the Spurs look to add a sixth banner to the rafters. But with Golden State and the Cavs in the hunt for the same prize, fans will have to wait to see if the new look Spurs can make it a reality.
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