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Number 1 And It Feels So Good…And So Different

By Jeff Koch on April 23, 2012.

Another night, another 20+ point win. (30+, really). Yawn. 26 minutes for Duncan (who didn’t play at all yesterday), 22 for Parker, 17 for Ginobili.

The most important thing to come out of this game: the #1 overall seed in the West. For not fighting hard to get it, we sure did take it pretty handily. Impressively.

The playoffs are setting up perfectly for us, too. The way it’s looking now is that we’ll get Utah or Phoenix in the first round (a fate that we can help decide, ironically). The Clippers and the Grizzlies will most likely be the 4-5 seed, so the winner of that series would be our second round opponent. I know the popular opinion is that the Grizzlies are a bad match-up for us. Theoretically, they are. But considering we just swept the season series from them 4-0, that this Spurs team is much better and deeper than last year’s team, and this may be the best any Spurs team has played in years (perhaps ever), I’m less scared of the Grizzlies than perhaps I should be. If nothing else, the Spurs certainly won’t be lacking for motivation to beat them.

It’s the other side of the bracket that is most interesting for me, and where all of the teams I wanted to avoid ended up. OKC will be #2, and the Lakers (assuming they beat the Kings in the last game of the season) will be #3. Dallas and Denver have 6 and 7 locked up, though which team will have which seed is yet to be determined. Both possible scenarios present interesting match-ups. Obviously, the best one would be Lakers-Mavericks in the first round, considering how thoroughly the Mavs destroyed the Lakers in last year’s playoffs. That would be no typical 3-6 series. OKC-Denver would also be very entertaining (the Nuggets play the Thunder well). Of course, reversed, the match-ups are just as intriguing. Dallas also took OKC out of the playoffs last year, and that would be an interesting match-up. (The Mavs were the one team from the bottom 4 I did not want to see; too big of a rivaly, too much history to make it an “easy” opening round opponent, no matter what the seeds say.) And Denver has the speed and pace to really give the Lakers fits.

And how about the elbow that might play a huge role in the Western Conference playoffs? With the Lakers win, it pretty much assured that the Lakers and Thunder could meet in the second round. If Metta World Peace is out, that seriously hampers the Lakers, as he has been playing well of late. But more importantly, if Harden misses significant time, that really hurts OKC. Westbrook and Durant are the two megastars on that team, but more often than not, Harden is the player I fear the most. He doesn’t have any singular skill on the level of the either two, but he is probably the more well-rounded player of the three. And with his acceptance of the 6th Man role, he’s turned into their own little Ginobili. It’ll be interesting the ramifications that elbow might have on a potential second-round match-up between the two, and how it might affect the winner in the WCF (hopefully against the Spurs). You never want to see an injury shape the playoffs so dramatically, but the health of Harden is very important moving forward.

Either way, it’s shaping up well for the Spurs.

The other interesting question moving forward into the last two games of the year is who the Spurs play, when, and for how long. I think Pop has vowed to play each of the Big 3 only one of the 2 remaining games after we locked up the top seed. Closing the season on the West Coast on the last night of the year (literally the last game of the regular season) and potentially opening up the playoffs Saturday afternoon, I’d play everybody against Phoenix (potentially resting a few subs like Blair or Green or Jackson, so they could mop up minutes in Golden State), and then actually send Ginobili, Duncan, and Parker home Thursday while the rest of the team flies to Golden State. Golden State isn’t trying to win anything, so we could very well win that game without trying. That gives each of the Big 3 one more game and one extra day of rest. We could also potentially knock Phoenix out of the playoffs by beating them (do we want to? I don’t have any preference between Utah and Phoenix), and possibly hit the 50-win plateau, which would mean something pretty significant historically for this Spurs team.

The most important thing is to get enough reps and enough rest to be at peak condition going into the first game of the playoffs. The team is humming in a way I’ve possibly never seen as a Spurs fan, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

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