As Nuggets Nation anxiously awaits GM Masai Ujiri's decision on his future employment with bated breath, the Spurs have somehow lurched their way to another NBA Finals. After being picked by only John Hollinger to win the West, the Spurs again defied predictions that their championship window was closed and that the "Big Three" of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were too aged to compete against younger teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or a (seemingly, at the time) newly-minted superteam in the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite my enduring hatred for Manu, the Spurs have nearly always capitalized on their opportunities to fight for the Larry O'Brien trophy. This postseason was definitely a fortunate one - they matched up in the first round against the Lakers' M.A.S.H. unit, then went on to face a super-young Warriors team overflowing with overconfident ebullience after knocking off the Nuggets. The Warriors weren't able to maintain their incredibly hot shooting they enjoyed during the first round and succumbed to the excellent adjustments employed by Coach Pop, as the Spurs won the series in 6. They then swept a clearly exhausted Grizzlies team which had to battle both the Clippers and Thunder. Luckily for the Spurs, they didn't have to play against either the Thunder or the Nuggets in the first two rounds, which would have likely given them much more trouble than the Warriors or Lakers did. With injuries to Russell Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari, and Stephen Curry derailing each of their respective team's postseason hopes, it appears that Pop's commitment to his players' health at all costs has once again paid off. With a super-long layoff due to their sweep of the Grizzlies, the Spurs can only get more rested as they bide their time and await their Eastern Conference opponent.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers slogged through some East sewage (Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks) en route to a date with the Heat - and are actually playing, surprisingly, perhaps the most competitive series in the playoffs so far. Even with Danny Granger sidelined after just 5 games into the regular season, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert are providing another example of a "no superstars" blueprint (unless you count Paul George as a superstar) capable of matching up with the best team in the league - through their defense. Roy Hibbert, especially, is absolutely wrecking the relatively undersized Heat:
Roy Hibbert has gone for 20 points and 10 boards in three of the four games in this series; he did that just seven times the entire regular season, and he went for 19 and 9 in the one game this series that he missed the arbitrary round-number benchmark. And his defense hasn't missed a beat, either.
Even with a reinvigorated Birdman providing a lift to the Heat's woeful frontcourt, the Pacers are succeeding by dominating the glass and "uglying the game up" against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. While I can't vouch for the games being any more exciting (or well officiated) than your average early season MLB snoozer, it's great to see the Pacers giving the Heat everything they can handle through the shameful flopping theatrics of James and Wade. Vlade Divac would have been proud of their acting skills in this series.
As small market teams go, the "Seven Seconds or Less"-era Phoenix Suns tried the uptempo, excellent-offense average-defense style, and only made it as far as the Western Conference Finals. We've all witnessed the Nuggets struggle to even make it out of the first round in the last decade playing a very similar style, never having reached the great heights of their first franchise Finals. Is it time for a seachange in the organization's thinking about how this team can succeed? Should we as fans demand a greater commitment to defense, and for Karl to retool his game plans to focus on slowing the game down? Can Karl adjust to a more defensive style? It would certainly make for a less exciting brand of basketball, but as we're currently seeing with the Pacers, it may not be pretty, but it's working.