While Gregg Popovich coaxed everyone to believe that the San Antonio Spurs are months away from peaking and getting their offense together, Kawhi Leonard has been building a nice little MVP bid and the Golden State Warriors have a legitimate competitor for best team in the NBA.
Following their very impressive 118-81 demolition of the disappointing Utah Jazz, the Spurs improved to 21-5, winning three in a row by 22 points or more. They’ve won seven of their last eight, with all their wins but one by 20 points or more. Their margin differential has now surpassed that of the Warriors (13.2 per game to 13.1) thanks to a defense that gives up just 87.9 points a night. When it comes to net ratings, they’re slightly behind the Warriors, who lead the league with +14.8 per 100 possessions, while the Spurs are at +13.9 per 100 possessions.
And as unlikely as their 37 point win over the Jazz might be, it’s not surprising to see the Spurs blow good teams out. Leonard scored 22 points in only 25 minutes, helped by LaMarcus Aldridge with 18 and Tony Parker with 18 points as well. Both Leonard and Aldridge are on the floor for all of the Spurs’ best and most effective lineups and there’s no doubt that the big free agent signing of the offseason is becoming a lot more comfortable in the Spurs’ offense, averaging 18.8 points per game in the last five.
The Spurs are 13-0 at home and now that they’ve seen the Warriors drop a game, might be feeling more confident in their ability to catch up with the NBA champions, who set an almost impossible to keep up with pace. It’ll be interesting to see if the Warriors have it in them to put together another impressive winning streak or did that loss against Milwaukee do more damage than just one loss, and slightly shatter a confidence that seemed to be even more important than ability during the 24-game winning streak.
If Leonard doesn’t get injured like he did last season, Aldridge keeps doing his thing which is a combination of his Portland days and as a more talented Tim Duncan than he’s ever had in the frontcourt since David Robinson and the defense keeps being the best in the league, it’s hard not to think of the Spurs as the best alternative out there to the Warriors dominance. As always, it might be under the radar, but it doesn’t mean they’re not as good.