Column: Spurs could make Finals
The San Antonio Spurs are now in the driver's seat in the Western Conference since passing the Oklahoma City Thunder for first place in the standings.
San Antonio is currently riding a seven-game winning streak with a league best 47-16 record, and they show no signs of slowing down.
The Spurs were able to steal home court advantage away from the Thunder after an impressive month of injury-free basketball. The Spurs have won nine of their last 10 games while the Thunder have only managed to win five of their last 10 despite the return of Russell Westbrook.
The return of Kawhi Leonard, the third-year player out of San Diego State, has been the key to the Spurs' recent success. Leonard missed the previous four weeks of the season due to a broken hand.
The Spurs' defense suffered without Leonard because he was Gregg Popovich's "go-to man" when the Spurs needed a stop. Leonard's role was to cover the best player on the opposing team on a nightly basis.
In San Antonio's first meeting with the Miami Heat for example, Leonard held four-time MVP LeBron James to 19 points on 6-for-18 shooting. However, in the next meeting without Leonard, LeBron James shot 8-for-15 from the field in a 113-101 Miami victory.
Leonard affects the play style of a lot of players like James. It took Kevin Durant 23 field goal attempts to score 24 points on Leonard the first time the Spurs met the Thunder. However, when the Thunder faced the Spurs without Leonard, Durant scored 36 points on 12-for-22 shooting.
Leonard is by far the most unappreciated player on the most unappreciated team. With him back, the Spurs have a healthy lineup for the first time all season. This is crucial because the Spurs have had rotating injuries within their starting lineup all season. As one player recovered, another got injured.
The Spurs currently have the best record in the NBA but do not expect Popovich to chase the coveted number one seed. Home court is not as important as a healthy lineup. The Spurs are not worried about playing a game seven on the road because they have a league best 24-8 record on the road. The Spurs have the same amount of losses on the road as they do at home, which is a testament to their consistency.
A healthy San Antonio squad can match up with any team. They have the size down low with Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. They have the perimeter shooting with Danny Green. Lastly they have a dynamic triple threat in Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Leonard. All three players can attack the basket, which is key when the tempo slows down in the playoffs.
A San Antonio vs. Miami finals rematch in June would not come as a surprise. After all, Duncan was only 5.2 seconds away from winning his fifth NBA title last year in Game Six.
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