In the two lockout shortened seasons of the last 13 years, we’ve seen less scoring, sluggish starts to the season and the San Antonio Spurs separating themselves from the league like Secretariat at the Belmont.
In both seasons, the Spurs have started with a whimper and then, while teams struggled to find health and continuity, blitzed past the league with startling dominance.
Year Start Finish 82-Game Pace Finishing SRS
1999 Spurs 6-8 46-7 71 wins 9.23
2012 Spurs 12-9 43-7 71 wins 9.97
The Spurs have been even more dominant this time around, pushing their SRS to 10 in the last 50 games. SRS is simply a team’s margin of victory adjusted for strength of schedule, and only six teams in NBA history have had SRS’s north of 10.
Since February 1, when the Spurs turned their season around, the team has lost just five times with Tim Duncan in the starting lineup. Since then, their SRS in the 44 games Tim Duncan has played is 10.29, suggesting that the Spurs are indeed humming along at historical levels of dominance. These aren’t results over a smaller 20-game sample or so, where we’ve seen the 1980 Bucks after the Bob Lanier trade, 2010 Magic or 2011 Nuggets close the year white hot. This is a clear shift over more than half of an 82-game season.
Even in the sprint to the finish, the Spurs were more impressive than just about any team in recent memory; They were 22-1 in their last 23 games with Duncan in the lineup, posting an SRS of 14.71! Michael Jordan’s 96 Bulls only posted a 12.45 SRS in their 41-3 start. The 1972 Lakers had a 14.9 SRS during their 33-game winning streak.
Both the 1999 and 2012 postseasons have featured rarely seen offensive ineptitude, with league-wide Offensive Ratings (points per 100 possessions) of under 102. For comparison, last year’s postseason average around the NBA was 106. In 99, the Spurs separated themselves with defense — nearly 3 points better every 100 than any other team. This time around it’s offense, with Oklahoma City the only team within Offensive Rating points of the Spurs.
While the league has battling fatigue, Greg Popovich has deployed a deep, athletic bench while resting his players. San Antonio’s ultra-crisp ball movement, good outside shooting — 1st in the league in 3-point percentage — and guard creation has set them above the league with their offense.
Is there at least an opponent that stands in San Antonio’s way that could give them trouble? After all, San Antonio did win 15 games in a row in 2004 before losing four straight to the Lakers and Derek Fisher‘s miracle shot.
- Against Oklahoma City (without Manu Ginobili), the Spurs lost in January in Oklahoma, then rolled through OKC on in February at home (up 18 after three quarters) and March on the road (up 13 after three quarters) like they rolled through everyone else. The Spurs led for 86 of the 96 minutes they played in those games.
- Against the Lakers, the Spurs won two of three games in mid April. Los Angeles was actually the last team to beat San Antonio way back on April 11, although when they met a week later in LA San Antonio won by 21 and then by 24 back in Texas. Tony Parker had his way in both games.
- The Miami Heat are the great mystery. Way back when the Spurs were pedestrian, Miami outscored them 71-35 in the second half en route to a 22-point rout.
The Spurs have figured it all out. So should you: They are the clear favorites to win the NBA championship.
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