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Washington, Milwaukee, Golden State, Houston, and Philly; this is not a list of great holiday vacation spots; these are the cities that represent the last five victories San Antonio has acquired. Many are heralding this past week’s success as the beginning of our finals run. In basketball terms, these games are nothing more than glorified practice. Before you reserve your spot in the NBA finals, we should take a quick look at what is ahead for the Spurs; Boston, Denver, and Utah. As a fan I am excited with the streak, as a pessimist I see impending disaster. Our run does not have to end this week, but we must approach each game with more intensity than we have seen this season.

On Thursday, the Boston Celtics come to San Antonio. After being snubbed by ‘Sheed this summer, and the arrogance of Boston after winning their championship, I would love to see the Spurs and the AT&T Center lay an old school smack down on the C’s. This battle of Titans could just as easily swing the other way. Just like Spurs teams of old the Celtic’s strength lies in their defense; they are third lowest in opponents’ points per game, second in steals, and second in opponents’ turnovers. While the defense is great, it does have holes, they are eighteenth and twenty-ninth respectively in block shots and rebounds. This gives us the opportunity to get into the paint and finish. The Spurs have shown a lack of tenacity this season when it comes to getting to the rim, but we must change that trend Thursday night. We are 6 and 0 when we win the points in the paint, and 3 and 1 when we shoot FEWER threes than our opponents. The Celtics would love for us to spend the entire night jacking up long-balls, but victory against this squad lives and dies in the paint. Guards have been punishing us all season long, and Rondo could have a career night. We must force them to play from the perimeter and allow our prowess on the boards to get us into the open court. Last, the Celtics lead the league in technical fouls. If we can get them frustrated early, we may gain the upper-hand psychologically as well.

Two days after the smack-down, we host one of the most prolific offenses in the Denver Nuggets. The key to this game is not how Denver plays offense, instead, how well we play offense. Denver has hoisted up almost 200 more shots than we have this year, but they have given up even more than they have taken. The Nuggets are third in scoring and sixth in assists posing an interesting set of problems for the Spurs. The driving force for this team is the fast break fueled by their eight and a half steals per game. The Spurs are one of the best teams in the league at protecting the ball; we can not have a lapse against this squad. We are 4 and 2 when we have fewer turnovers than our opponents. The Nuggets’ knack for the pick is also their downfall. They take risks on defense, and if the Spurs can maintain their composure, there will be plenty of opportunities for open looks around the basket. They are a slashing, physical team and lead the league in free-throws, attempted and made. San Antonio must force them to be a half court team, push them out beyond the arc and we will win this game. Again, we are a better rebounding team; we must be physical and aggressive on both ends of the ball. Tim Duncan is the key in this game. He must anchor the Spurs from the inside and slow this game down.
The Utah Jazz await us after the gauntlet. We are 0 and 2 against Utah this season, but not because we are a worse team. The first two times we played, we were missing key players in our line-up. We should be healthy for this one, and that gives us better depth and scoring than we have had all season. Utah is a half court team, very aggressive on the steals, and almost even with the Spurs in nearly every other category. Unlike Utah we have the ability to switch into a higher gear. Just like our two earlier matchups, the Jazz are not a good shot blocking team, so we must attack the rim. We need to get out ahead of the Jazz, pulling them out of their sets, and forcing them to play on their heels. Tony, Manu, and Richard are going to have to be very aggressive for us to win this game. Utah leads the league in assists and is driven by Deron Williams; stop him and stop the Jazz. It would not surprise me to see Bogans or Manu pulling duty on Williams, forcing the ball out of his hands and keeping him out of the paint.

This is a brutal week of basketball. Our bench is second in scoring, first in rebounds, and first in assists. They will be the key against these three championship caliber teams. The Spurs are no longer that old clunker team of years past. The physicality and high basketball I.Q. of our guys, give us the edge over these over-confident “younger” teams. The fire is waiting on our Spurs. It will make us stronger; removing weaknesses and refining our deficiencies. Win or loose we will come out of the furnace a better team.


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