The San Antonio Spurs have been hearing it from detractors for years. They’re just bound to break down soon. They’re too old. Too many injuries. Tim Duncan isn’t the same, and neither are Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Kawhi Leonard hasn’t improved after winning the Finals MVP last year. And they’ve never won back-to-back championships.
For years now, the Spurs have been on the cusp of implosion about as often as they’ve been on the list of perennial championship contenders. But toward the end of each season, they cast aside all the doubts and put everything together at the perfect time.
Like clockwork, San Antonio is at it again. The Spurs have ripped off 11 consecutive victories, the longest current streak in the NBA, and now sit perched on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with one game left in the regular season.
The Spurs toiled in a poor 7-10 December run, righted the ship, and then endured a four-game road losing streak after the All-Star break. Since then, they’ve lost only three games.
“They just took it to us,” Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after his squad fell to San Antonio 107-92 last week. “They were fantastic. They have a lot to play for, because they’re trying to improve their seeding. They were ready for us, and we probably weren’t quite ready. They wanted the game, and it showed. They outplayed us in every facet.”
The six-week victory blitz has also improved San Antonio’s standings with Las Vegas. The latest odds have moved the Spurs up from 5-1 to 5-2, with only the Warriors at 2-1 and Cleveland Cavaliers at 21-10 ranked better.
The most recent late-season surge has perfectly coincided with Leonard’s return to form. The 23-year-old small forward missed 18 games this season due to a torn ligament in his shooting hand, and it took some time for Leonard to rediscover the scoring touch that made him the third youngest player to ever win Finals MVP.
Over the last two months, Leonard’s put up roughly 19 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals a game, while shooting better than 55 percent from the field over 30 minutes a game. Before the start of March, Leonard was clearly still feeling the effects of his hand injury and never averaged better than 44 percent from the field until now.
Leonard’s healthy status and concurrent production is especially scary, given the Spurs aren’t playing at full strength. Head coach Gregg Popovich has rested Duncan during the last seven games, with the 17-year veteran averaging a shade less than 24 minutes per game this month. Parker had one major 27-point outburst in the 110-98 victory over the Houston Rockets, but he’s played only 23.7 minutes per game in April as well.
Ginobili’s missed 12 games this season with various minor injuries and he’s averaging only 10.6 points per game, his lowest total since his rookie year back in 2003. Yet the Argentine has found his long-range stroke this month, knocking down 41.3 percent of his three-point attempts after barely getting passed 30 percent in the three previous months.
With San Antonio challenging for home court advantage through at least the first two rounds of the postseason, talk of a Spurs-Cavaliers, or Duncan vs. LeBron James Finals rematch, is more than reasonable.
James is no doubt savoring a chance to face Duncan and the Spurs for a fourth time. In his first stint with the Cavs, James carried the franchise to its first and only Finals appearance back in 2007, but was swept by the on-fire Duncan and Spurs. As a member of the Miami Heat, James managed to topple San Antonio in the Finals two years ago, before falling in last year’s championship round.
But the young and heralded Warriors still stand as the West’s most likely representative. Led by MVP favorite Stephen Curry, Golden State has run away with the league’s top record at 65-15 and have secured home court advantage throughout the postseason. The Warriors are also an NBA-best 37-2 at home this season, with the West’s road to the Finals sure to go through Oracle Arena this year.
Below is the complete list of NBA Finals betting odds, via of Bovada.lv.
Golden State Warriors 2-1
Cleveland Cavaliers 21-10
San Antonio Spurs 5-2
Atlanta Hawks 16-1
Chicago Bulls 18-1
Houston Rockets 25-1
Los Angeles Clippers 25-1
Memphis Grizzlies 33-1
Dallas Mavericks 50-1
Portland Trail Blazers 50-1
Toronto Raptors 66-1
Boston Celtics 75-1
Indiana Pacers 100-1
Washington Wizards 100-1
New Orleans Pelicans 150-1
Oklahoma City Thunder 150-1
Brooklyn Nets 250-1
Milwaukee Bucks 250-1