— The drama continues to intensify in a great NBA season as we get closer to the playoffs. Each team has a great storyline to follow, enough to make your head spin. But the one to watch is the team that dodgers drama the best.
This week has been dominated by the Miami Heat and their losing steak. Coach Erik Spoelstra admitted some players cried after losing at home to the Bulls last Sunday, and this South Beach soap opera has listeners flooding into my radio show slamming the "Big 3" for their underachieving ways.
The Lakers have been rolling since the All-Star break, winning eight straight as Phil Jackson appears to have awakened his roster as the postseason draws near. The two-time defending champs mailed in the first half of the season and seemed to care more about the All-Star parties in Hollywood instead of fighting for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. But now the Lakers are rolling.
The Knicks purged most of their roster to get Carmelo Anthony, while the Jazz shipped Deron Williams to the Nets, fearing he would become a free agent after next season.
But despite all that, the Spurs are the team to beat and are my pick to win the title.
Yes, the Spurs' home loss to the Lakers — one in which San Antonio trailed by 30 points for most of the contest — was shocking. For a Gregg Popovich-coached team, this was unacceptable. Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson enjoyed sending the message to Spurs fans that they would be ready when the playoffs begin.
But as of Wednesday night, San Antonio leads Dallas by six games and L.A. by seven in the loss column in the Western Conference standings. The Spurs' last three losses came against the Lakers, Grizzlies and Bulls — the three hottest teams in the NBA. San Antonio doesn't need to panic, despite looking lazy on defense and stagnant on offense.
Don't forget what got the Spurs to the best record in the league and complete control of their destiny. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have combined for 10 titles. They lead their teammates on and off the court.
Despite his high-profile divorce from actress Eva Longoria, Tony Parker continues to play point guard at a high level. He plays through injury, averages 17 points per game and controls the Spurs offense. Parker has been instrumental in helping George Hill and Gary Neal blossom this season, and they combine for more than 20 points per game. There are not many All-Star point guards who would sacrifice point production and playing time so younger teammates could gain experience.
Ginobili is having his best season at the age of 33. He is averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game to go along with five assists per game. He is smart enough to conserve energy when he can and should be fresh for the playoffs.
Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward ever to play and still has plenty left in his tank as he is highly motivated to win his fifth ring. That would tie him with Kobe Bryant and give him one more than Shaquille O’Neal.
I’m most impressed with the way the Spurs run their organization. Owner Peter Holt lets general manager RC Buford and Popovich work together to upgrade their roster each season. They find players to fit their system. They have the best understanding of foreign players and do a great job at scouting college basketball. The addition of DeJuan Blair is a great example of this — even as a second-year player (who makes less than $1 million per season), he can dominate a game in short spurts.
Other great bench players brought in by Buford and Pops are forwards Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson. Bonner is shooting over 52 percent from 3-point range, while Jefferson’s 11 points per game and improved attitude give the Spurs a player who can match up well against the Lakers in the playoffs.
Look for the Spurs to win 67 games this season and secure home-court advantage throughout the postseason. With their coaching, Hall-of-Fame roster and deep bench, they are my pick to win it all this season, beating the Lakers in the West finals and the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals.
I’ve had a standing reservation in San Antonio at a prominent Riverwalk hotel for the past decade, and I’m confident that I’ll be ordering room service in June.