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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

The Spurs empire falls as the Rebel Bros Forever rise

As everyone on campus is surely aware, we are knee-deep in the playoffs right now. Yes, the intramural basketball team of which I am proud to say I am a part, the Forever Young Rebel Bros, is in the midst of a remarkable post-season run which has captured America’s hearts. Entering the playoffs with a 6-2 record and the three seed, our scrappy bunch of misfits advanced through the first round, survived a tough challenge in the semi-finals, and now, we’re going to the ’ships!

My column is due before we face down our nemesis in the Finals (if the NBA gets to capitalize it, so do I), but I have to say that we’re feeling confident in our abilities. Sure, we lost to our opponent in the regular season by a hefty margin, but we are not the same basketball team as we were a few weeks ago. We’re playing our best basketball of the season: there’s a discernible difference between our zone defense and our man-to-man and we haven’t let anyone under 5’ 3” get into double figures in the last two games. So we’re a pretty tough match-up. I just hope that either way, win by twenty or win by astronomically more, we Rebel Bros are able to look back on an extraordinary season with a sense of pride for what we did accomplish rather than regret for what was just beyond our reach.

Though the Rebel Bros’ playoff run captivates the nation, the NBA playoffs in the past couple weeks have actually been very interesting as well. The storyline I find most fascinating is the decline, or perhaps implosion might be more fitting, of the San Antonio Spurs. After all, this is a team that went 61-21 in the regular season and was the number one seed in the Western Conference. These Spurs have been one of the most successful franchises in all of sports in the last decade and a half. According to Sports Illustrated, since 1997 the Spurs have posted a 69.6 winning percentage, which is good enough for the best in all of sports, not just the NBA. They have been to the Conference Finals six times in the last 12 years. This year looked no different, with Coach Gregg Popovich’s group posting their best record since 2005 to ’06, when they went 63-19. So what happened? How did such a good team with so much success in the regular season fail to win its first round series again the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, a team that won 15 fewer games in the regular season? In the last decade the Grizzlies have wallowed in futility while the Spurs have been accumulating rings, yet this year they dispatched the former champs in six games—why?

The answer, as I foretold in my playoffs column last year, is that the Spurs are incredibly old. They were dog-tired after a season of dominance and they paid dearly for it against the younger, more energetic Grizzlies. The Spurs’ aging legend, Tim Duncan, best exemplifies the trend. Duncan’s career average is 20.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, but that average is dragged down by his numbers this season: 13.4 points and 8.9 boards per game. Duncan, 35, has lost more than a step; he’s lost half his game. I fully respect Duncan’s desire to retire in San Antonio, and he is still a valuable contributor. But the Spurs have not made adequate plans for the decline and eventual retirement of their “big three.” Tony Parker, now 28, and Manu Ginobili, 33, seem to still have some gas in the tank, so the organization’s primary concern should be replacing Duncan with another elite big man. Zac Zandolph of Memphis is averaging 22.3 points per game in the postseason, while Tim Duncan averaged only 12.7. The Spurs have too long been in “win now” mode instead of planning for their future, and they will pay for it, just as they did against the Grizzlies. Antonio McDyess will also be gone soon, leaving undersized DeJuan Blair starting at center for the Spurs. Though their position in the draft is never very good because they win so much (in the regular season, anyway), the Spurs still draft only to complement their vanishing centerpieces.  No Spurs pick since Luis Scola in 2002 has averaged more than 10 points. Contributions from guys like George Hill are nice, but are only relevant alongside the play of an elite scorer and rebounder like Duncan. Why not try to trade away some of those role players with draft picks to move up and really take a swing on somebody? Unfortunately, I don’t think this draft is deep enough, especially with true centers, for them to pick their next star from the college (or more likely with the Spurs, European) ranks. So while Memphis deserves lots of credit and is now playing a tough series with my Western Conference Champion pick Oklahoma Thunder, the Spurs’ loss is symptomatic of a Western empire in decline.

Other NBA Playoff Thoughts:

Should the Lakers be pushing the panic button? Yes. Definitely. The Mavericks are embarrassing them, but I’m not as ready to tell the Lakers to go back to the drawing board, as I am the Spurs. Kobe, now 32 years old, has lost a step, but he’s still one of the League’s best scorers. Even without his speed he would be one of the best shooters in the NBA and he’s capable of willing his team to a win. Those skills never go out of style. I’ve also got to hand it to J.J. Barea; the little guy is a beast out there. Dirk is always going to be Dirk, but I never saw Barea being the guy who buries the Lakers at home.

Should I re-evaluate my Thunder-Bulls pick given either team’s performance thus far? Nope. The Bulls didn’t dominate the Pacers like everyone thought they would, they drop a game to the Hawks, and suddenly people are bailing on them as a favorite. I don’t see anything that worries me too much, though. D-Rose is still playing out of his mind. Noah is still crashing the boards like he’s got four arms. Carlos Boozer just needs to get it together and the Bulls will be fine. The Thunder have a tough matchup against Memphis, but Kevin Durant has been his usual incredible self, Westbrook is getting his shot selection under control and continues to be an assist machine, and Perk is a beast down low. Can’t wait for this matchup.

-Kramer McLuckie ’12

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