You can’t fault America for disregarding an old team that lost in the first round last season. Since then, so much has happened in basketball that I doubt too many casual fans even realize the Spurs ran away with the Western Conference during 2010-11′s first 82 games. It took the new monarchs of Los Angeles all of one preseason quarter to take the torch from Miami as the new season’s most interesting group of newcomers. Chris Paul aka John Williams. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan redefining the basic psychics of the game. Chauncey Billups playing with a controlled rage aimed at the entire basketball nation. But the Spurs showed Monday in their 95-82 revenge win against Memphis that balding heads aren’t bringing them to retirement homes and Saturday afternoon black-and-white cowboy reruns just yet. The two teams are ready to size each other up. They get their first taste tonight.
I tweeted earlier there are three games on tap tonight that have my mouth foaming: Memphis and Oklahoma City meet up again to resume the rivalry that began in one of the best playoff series in recent memory. The Knicks are traveling out to meet the Warriors and perhaps the best fans in the biz, and of course, the Clippers get another road test in San Antonio (I also plan on watching the Pacers play in Toronto, but don’t tell anyone.).
We’ve all but written off the Spurs since they fell off a cliff and ran into Memphis’ buzz saw of talent and toughness last spring. Tim Duncan can’t do much anymore offensively outside of hit line-drive jumpers every now and then and occasionally score one-on-one in the post. We’ve written them off by not writing about them at all. I’ve heard virtually nothing out of them since the lockout lifted, and even after they put a beatdown on that same Memphis team the other night, most of the coverage I found was from people believing the Grizzlies’ problems stemmed from a lack of cohesion (the return of Rudy Gay) and lazy, stupid basketball (starving Zach Randolph).
You can’t exactly fault NBA columnists for this. Outside of my man Austin Burton (probably the only person alive outside of Texas who willingly chooses to put the Spurs into his five teams to watch League Pass package), nearly everyone else has other things to talk about. Namely, that the Clippers and Thunder look like the two best teams in the West.
Having Paul on your team automatically makes you a contender to make the playoffs. But when you give him the horses, not even a confused and overwhelmed coach should be able to stop 46-50 wins and probably at least one playoff series win. On the other side, the Spurs aren’t guaranteed anything this year.
Do I think San Antonio can go deep in the playoffs? The Grizzlies were a difficult matchup for them, but the Spurs have a habit of winning big games. They also have Manu Ginobili. They could easily make a run.
Even with so many writing off the Spurs, I’m interested to see how they handle L.A. tonight. At home, they’re a different animal, and the Clippers very nearly lost to Golden State on Christmas night. Tonight we’ll get a taste of the past and present, and see where they stack up.
Who do you think will have a better season: the Spurs or Clippers?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.