With all the fuss focused on South Beach and the Miami Heat winning streak, you can be excused if you failed to notice Tony Parker’s return to the floor for the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
The Utah Jazz wish they were elsewhere as well as their playoff hopes took yet another hit thanks to Parker’s 22 point, 5 assist performance in a 104-97 overtime victory for the Spurs. San Antonio managed to get by just fine in his absence, but getting Parker clicking on all cylinders over the final three weeks of the season is no doubt a boost for the team as they look to seal up the top spot in the Western Conference.
At 53-16, Parker and company are 2.5 games ahead of Oklahoma City in the Western Conference and welcome back their all-star point guard just in time for a batch of tough contests. The Spurs want the top seed regardless of who they face, be it Los Angeles, Houston or Golden State, if for no other reason than they’ll have no trouble beating any of those teams and will seal up home floor advantage all the way up to the NBA Finals should they make it that far, but it won’t be easy.
In the next week, the Spurs face the likes of Houston, Denver and the Clippers before getting to take a crack at ending Miami’s winning streak themselves next Sunday at the AT&T Center. That will be followed by a week in which they face Memphis, Oklahoma City and Atlanta.
Parker went on NBAtv last night after the victory, which was Greg Popavich’s 900th by the way, and said that the Spurs really only care about being healthy going into the playoffs, which is true, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be taking it easy in any game. Pop is a perfectionist and expects whatever team he puts on the floor to run his system to perfection and compete, and they do.
You might remember a Thursday game against Miami earlier this year in which Pop rested Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, yet the team lost by a mere four points. Whether or not they could do that again is another matter, but rest assured that no matter what the Spurs do from here, they’ll give themselves a chance to win every night.
With Parker back, San Antonio will shatter the 60 win mark yet again and will undoubtedly hold off Oklahoma City for the top spot in the west. Parker will be fresh headed into the playoffs and you can guarantee that Ginobili and Duncan will see enough down time between now and Apr. 17 that they will be too.
Averaging 21 points and 7.6 assists per game, Parker pulls the strings of the league’s fourth best offense. But in his absence, San Antonio averaged around the same output offensively, leaving no pressure on Pop to test Parker’s limits for the remainder of the season. After seeing him play for 36 minutes on Friday, we know Parker is okay, now the Spurs’ priority will be keeping him that way, because they need him as much on the other end as it turns out.
While he was out, the Spurs on average gave up 99 points, up from their 96 point average allowed. Now, with Parker’s ability to defend the pick and roll and average of a steal per game, the Spurs will regain some of that defensive identity that has made them so great over the years.
Parker’s return is well timed, ahead of schedule and a breath of fresh air for a San Antonio team that needs him. The Spurs will lock up the top spot in two weeks time and Parker will be as big of a part of that as he will be another run at a title.