1. Is Spurs' Speed-Ball A Title Formula?
The Spurs should no longer be bound by our old perceptions of them.
The only reason the Spurs don't get more billing as title contenders is because of our own biases, our tendency to think of them as the same aging team that hasn't won a title since 2007, back when we envisioned a bright future for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
These 2012 Spurs are younger, faster and deeper. Which means they'll be up against the conventional playoff wisdom that speed and depth aren't the ways to win in the playoffs.
It's still hard to adjust to the Spurs as a different team. But their young, fast guys play almost as many minutes as the slow dudes. And how do we classify Tony Parker? Because he's been in the league 11 years we think of him as older, but he's still only 29.
We should be thinking of him as a serious MVP candidate. Parker is the heart of the Spurs the way Rajon Rondo is the most vital organ of the Celtics. It's not that Parker is scoring more (his 18.4 points per game don't even crack his top four seasons), but he's doing a better job than ever of running a team the way a point guard is supposed to.
We can definitely put Parker in the fast category. Ask Steve Blake, whom Parker statued on his way to a layup. (I know statued isn't a word, but there's no other way to describe the way Parker made Blake look like Lady Liberty with a full-speed change of direction.)
Collectively the Spurs put 112 points on the Lakers. Thirty-six of their points came in the second quarter, when the pace picked up and the reserves got extended playing time. Both are decided advantages for the Spurs against the Lakers.
"We did not look like we had -- nor tried to get -- control of the tempo," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "It kind of reminded me of when we played Phoenix at Phoenix."
And that statement reminded me of how it used to be for teams going against Mike D'Antoni's Suns, when they'd get caught up in the pace and the Suns delighted in that, knowing if both teams put up a lot of shots the Suns would make more of theirs. This season the Spurs are fourth in the league in field goal percentage and second in 3-point shooting, so if anyone wants to challenge them to target practice they welcome it.
"We are playing with a much faster pace," said Tim Duncan, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. "That's the way of the NBA. That's how it's going. You need to get the ball up the floor. Teams are too big and guys are too good defensively. You need to get the ball up the floor and make things happen early."
After all of those years of tormenting the Suns, how messed up would it be if the Spurs played the Suns in the first round and beat them by jacking their old style?
The longer-term questions begin with whether speed-ball can turn into a championship. It never did for those Suns.
And can the depth advantage come into play as much in the postseason, when their reserves will play more minutes against the other team's starters? And in the playoffs the Spurs can count on spending about 38 minutes playing against Kobe Bryant, who missed his sixth consecutive game because of a shin injury.
The Spurs secretly want Bryant to play in San Antonio Friday night so they can get an idea of what it would be like to play against this Lakers team with him on the court. They're still getting a feel for this possible playoff opponent after playing them for the first time this season last week.
That one didn't go so well for them. Andrew Bynum dominated with 30 rebounds and 16 points, and Pau Gasol had 21 points.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tinkered with the lineup this time, using Tiago Splitter instead of DeJuan Blair to counter the Lakers' height. Splitter couldn't stop Bynum in the first quarter, when he scored 13 points, but after the pace picked up in the second quarter the Lakers were never able to establish Bynum again.
If the Spurs hadn't won this, or at least made it closer than the pounding the Lakers gave them in San Antonio last week, the Spurs might as well have sent their main players home for the summer, because there'd be no reason to believe they could beat the Lakers in the playoffs with Bryant back.
At the moment, it's nothing for them to worry about. They have the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the Lakers are third, which means they could let the Thunder take the Lakers out in the second round. The Spurs match up better with the Thunder. Strange how a regular season that Popovich treated as a mere precursor to the playoffs by strategically sitting out his players could actually set up the Spurs for an optimal postseason run based on seeding.
As long as the Spurs show their style can work in the playoffs. If we're not going to consider them as the same old Spurs, it means we can't consider them proven.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Carmelo Anthony. Tallying his first triple-double since 2007 (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), Melo continued his torrid play of late with a much-needed demon-exercising of the never-say-die Celtics. It remains to be seen how much longer he can keep this up, but for now, Knicks fans should enjoy this Bernard-esque run.
X factor: The Knicks needed all of Steve Novak's career-high 25 points (on 8-for-10 shooting -- all of them from long distance), but none were more important than the two treys he hit late in the fourth with the Celtics charging.
That was ... ridiculous: The Knicks were absolutely unconscious from deep, connecting on 19 of their 32 attempts and finishing just one shy of the franchise record of 20 in a game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Tony Parker dominated the Lakers, scoring 29 points and dishing out 13 assists. He was a terror in the open court and torched the Lakers in the half-court with his jumper.
Defining moment: The Spurs used an 18-0 run in the second quarter to seize control of the game. At one point, the Lakers turned the ball over on five straight possessions, and the Spurs turned them all into made baskets. San Antonio never looked back.
X factor: The Spurs' offense was so crisp and precise. They posted an offensive efficiency of 119.1 for the game, and used great screen actions to create driving lanes and open jumpers all evening. They really befuddled the Lakers' defense with their relentless execution on that end of the floor.
Recap | Box score
X factor: The Sixers, they of the fourth-best 3-point defense in the Association, have now given up 24 the past two nights, after watching the Pacers shoot a cool 13-of-24 from beyond the arc. Prime offender Danny Granger went 6-of-8.
MVP: Andre Iguodala -- criminally underrated star or overpaid third banana? -- is as tricky a player as any to place in the NBA's hierarchy. More performances like Tuesday's, and he'll be a lot easier to peg. In a noble but losing effort, the controversial forward scored 23 points on 12 shots (remarkably, it was his first 20-point night since Jan. 16), and added seven rebounds and six assists.
That was ... a pleasant surprise: The Pacers, winners of nine of their past 10 and five straight entering Tuesday, have been blowing the doors off teams lately, while the sinking Sixers have been buckling under the expense of replacing so many of their doors. No matter. In Philadelphia's regular-season home finale, the two teams headed in opposite directions played high-quality, competitive basketball throughout -- including a gripping series of punches and counterpunches in the final quarter.
Recap | Box score
That was ... depressing: After three quarters, the score was 100-50 in Detroit's favor. The draft lottery just can't come quickly enough for the Cavaliers, who seem to have completely given up on another season and their fans.
MVP: Brandon Knight, in a cakewalk. The eighth overall pick was simply unstoppable Tuesday. He scored a game-high 28 points, shot 7-for-7 from inside the 3-point line and made four of his five 3-point attempts. For those of you scoring at home, that's 28 points on 12 shots and two free throw attempts, which is absolutely absurd.
X factor: The Pistons absolutely eviscerated the Cavaliers in the paint, 42-28. Cleveland was able to muster only two blocks (defensive specialist Tristan Thompson tallied zero in 34 minutes), while the Pistons swatted away 10 of the Cavaliers' shots. The Cavs simply didn't have the size, speed or athleticism to match up with the Pistons inside, and it showed.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Rudy Gay. Rudy had nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, and all nine came in the final 3:36 of the game. He helped Memphis close out the game on an 11-3 run.
Defining moment: Anthony Tolliver's offensive foul with 3:49 left. Tolliver rolled to the rim and made the basket when he was called for an offensive foul, negating the three-point opportunity. He never got an explanation for what the foul was, but it changed the momentum of the fourth.
That was ... stingy: There were only 29 combined points by both teams in the fourth quarter. The Wolves held the Grizzlies scoreless for 6:11 in the fourth. Memphis allowed the Wolves to score only seven points during the same stretch.
3. Tuesday's Best
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks: This guy might not be so bad after all. Melo continued his tear since Amare Stoudemire went down, finishing with his second career triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) as the Knicks 3-bombed their way past the Celtics in a 118-110 win (see Box 9).
4. Tuesday's Worst
Quittin' Cavs? After three quarters, Cleveland was down 50 points. Yep, it was that kind of night for the Cavaliers, who "stormed back" in the fourth to close the final deficit in Detroit to 116-77. After flirting with a playoff berth to start the season, the Cavs now have lost 14 of their past 17.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Sometimes, there are just crazy nights like that. Everything you shoot goes in. For them, everything they shoot doesn't. We've all been there.
-- Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, after the Pistons obliterated the Cavs 116-77 in Detroit.
8. Not A Pretty Sight
9. Stat Check
Steve Novak came off the Knicks' bench to nail eight 3-pointers, and J.R. Smith followed him with seven treys off the bench in the Knicks' win over the Celtics on Tuesday night. It was the fourth time in NBA history that a pair of teammates each hit at least seven treys in the same game but the first in which both players came off the bench to do it.
The Pacers have scored at least 100 points and allowed fewer than 100 points in each game of their current six-game winning streak. They are the sixth team in NBA history to have such a winning streak and the first since the Lakers did it seven games in a row early in the 2009-10 season.
10. Dunk Of The Night