Time for Spurs to wake up as postseason nears
By MARQUEL INGRAM
College Contributor Network
The reigning, defending NBA champions have, for a lack of a better phrase, skated through the regular season.
But with only a few weeks left and playoff positioning still very much important (with the exception of the number one seed, on which the Golden State Warriors have a stranglehold), the Spurs need to close out the season strong to get a favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
Currently, the Spurs are 44-25, sixth in the daunting Western Conference. If the playoffs were to start today, they would play division rival, Houston in the first round.
This is a matchup San Antonio would not want, considering they have lost four of their last five games against the Rockets, dating back to last year.
Last season, San Antonio was alive and well throughout the 82-game schedule, winning 62 of those games, while playing inspired basketball every night all the way through the NBA Finals where they stomped a mudhole through the LeBron-led Miami Heat.
This season has not nearly felt the same for Gregg Popovich's team -- they lost to the D-League Knickerbockers the other night!
Poor play against teams like the Knicks has led the head coach to criticize his players for not winning games they're supposed to win and dominate.
"We didn't respect the game, we didn't respect our opponent," said a perturbed Popovich after last week's nauseating loss against New York. "It was a pathetic performance and I hope that every player is embarrassed. Not because 'we are supposed to win the game' but it is about how you play the game."
It seems the Spurs have responded: they have won each of their last three games -- against Milwaukee, Boston and an impressive 114-95 road victory against first-place Atlanta on Sunday.
However, the 2014-15 version of the Spurs have been conspicuously inconsistent throughout, which has resulted in suffering defeats against unworthy opponents.
During an uncharacteristic four-game losing streak, they were only able to put 81 points on the scoreboard against the Utah Jazz, who project to be in the running to be a lottery team. As a matter of fact, San Antonio has lost twice to the Jazz. Unfathomable!
Furthermore, I can't remember the last time this organization has sustained two four-game losing streaks.
A look at the team stats last year versus this year may explain some. Scoring is down -- 105.4 to 102.4 -- three points from last year to this year. Ditto to their three-point percentage. The three was something they utilized effectively last year.
I can't ignore that their defense has remained stout (97.9 points per game -- ninth in the league), but their explosive offense was what lifted them to the promised land a year ago.
I also can't ignore the injury bug. Health has played a factor this season, but it's hard to turn a blind eye to the lack of production by some of the team's key players. Future star forward Kawhi Leonard is averaging a career-best 15.9 ppg, but is shooting a career-worst 46% from the field. His play in the fourth quarter has suffered too, as Skip Bayless, ardent Spurs supporter will tell you:
If it weren't for a modest surge of stronger basketball, many would declare guard Tony Parker no longer in the top echelon of point guards in the league. Still, his numbers have dropped too, only averaging five assists to go along with his 15 points.
Maybe Kawhi's heart isn't completely in it b/c Spurs held off paying him. But Finals MVP again comes up small late. Can't take "star" step.- Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 18, 2015
Even Manu Ginobili has struggled -- his scoring numbers are the worst he has produced since his rookie season and hasn't shot 43% or lower from the floor since 2012-13.
This could be much ado about nothing come postseason time as a lot of the Spurs roster seem to play even better during that time. And, after all, they are the defending champs and have made an appearance in the finals in each of the past two seasons.
But now is the time for San Antonio to play at a postseason level in order to make another run at a NBA championship.
Marquel Ingram is an aspiring sports writer from Rutgers University. He loves the Colts, Yankees and the Mavericks. Follow him on Twitter: @marquel_ingram