Posted by Neil Paine on April 17, 2009
Regular Season: Missing Manu Ginobili and then Tony Parker early in the season, Tim Duncan had to battle hard just to kee San Antonio afloat. But new faces emerged as well, like Roger Mason, who made a name for himself with several clutch shots, and big man Matt Bonner, who set a career high for minutes played and knocked down 44% of his 3-point shots. When Manu and TP returned, the Spurs started winning again, and it looked like a vintage San Antonio-odd year performance. But then Ginobili was lost for the season, and it changed everything for the Spurs.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Tim Duncan. Let's see, MVP candidate for each of the past 11 seasons, 3-time Finals MVP, best PF ever... Yeah, I'd say that qualifies you as a prime-time player.
2. Tony Parker. Sacré bleu! With Ginobili out, TP is going to have to play out of his mind to keep the Spurs competitive. Luckily, he's been doing that just about all season long -- I mean, how many PGs do you know who can put up an ORtg of 112 on 32% of his team's possessions when on the floor? Also, he was Finals MVP in 2007, so no worries on the whole clutch front.
3. Roger Mason & Michael Finley. Both of these guys can knock down big shots and have proved it again and again (heck, Finley did it just this week). If you lose track of one of them in an end-game set play, you're pretty much toast.
But don't count on... Bruce Bowen. Look, I appreciate Bowen's tough (dirty?) D as much as anyone, and he can still stand around in the corner and knock down the 3-ball all day long, but his extreme inability/aversion to do anything beyond that on offense has become untenable, and Pop knows it. He'll still be useful in a "we must shut this guy down" situation, but this isn't the same guy who could go out and give you 35 MPG in the playoffs anymore.
Why they can win: They're still the Spurs, for goodness' sake! They'll make you work for every bucket, Duncan can kill you down low, and Parker is the quickest guard this side of Chris Paul. Don't count them out just yet.
Why they can't win: Losing Manu, arguably an equal of Duncan's in terms of 2-way impact, is a big blow. And it could prove insurmountable against a Western Conference where any team could beat any other team (except the Lakers) in any given playoff game. They're up against it pretty bad without him, plain and simple.
X-Factor: The odd-year thing. I mean, that's not just a coincidence, right?
|Spurs vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Dallas||X||X||X||More bitter feuding this time around?||Spurs in 7|
|Denver||X||X||X||X||Denver's home-court advantage could mean everything||Nuggets in 6|
|Houston||X||X||Rockets out-Spur the Spurs||Rockets in 6|
|Los Angeles||Push||X||They'd have a chance with Manu around||Lakers in 5|
|New Orleans||X||X||X||Only a single-handed win or 2 by CP3 could save the Hornets||Spurs in 6|
|Portland||X||X||X||Young Portland slips past elder Spurs||Blazers in 6|
|Utah||X||X||X||Parker/Duncan better than Williams/Boozer||Spurs in 7|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)