The Sky is Still Blue, Right?
Let's take a look at some key points.
First of all, the streak. DEN finished the season on a 25-4 run. Those numbers, 25 and 4, are impressive. However, and I've said this many times, their strength of schedule over that time was extremely weak. The winning percentage of the teams they beat was 45.3%. When you extract the SEA game (Lewis and Radmanovic didn't play) and the two SA games (Duncan missed both and Ginobili missed one), the winning percentage drops to 40.5%. The team with a WP% closest to 40.5? TOR and NY. Just for reference.
DEN's best wins during the streak? SACTO (without Miller) or WAS (without Jamison) at home and MEM on the road. They didn't even play: DAL, MIA, DET, CHI. They didn't play a full strength SEA, SACTO, or SA. They played PHX three times and lost all three by an average of 9.33 points. They played HOU once (without Camby) and lost by 28.
Beating bad and/or average teams is important; during the regular season they count the same as beating good teams. But. Um. You don't play crappy teams in the playoffs. At least not in the WC.
A little more about streaks. Last year there was a team that had a similar streak. They went 24-7 over a stretch, including wins over LAL, SACTO, DAL, @SA, SA, DEN, DEN and @MINN. Wow. That's impressive. I don't want to face that team in the playoffs.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
That team was MEM. Which got swept by SA, losing by an average of 14 points.
Another team went 17-0, including 6 wins in the playoffs! Holy crap! That's gotta be DET, right? Man, that team ruled.
Wait for it.
That was SA, who lost 4 straight to the LAL by an average of 11.25 points.
Oh. One last thing. DAL finished the season on a 19-3 streak. They promptly lost their first playoff game to HOU.
That's enough about streaks. Let's move on to home court advantage.
The last time I checked, the Spurs have home court. SA has lost a total of 3 times this year in the SBC Center; to SEA, MEM and DEN. "A ha" sayeth the Nuggets fan. DEN has proven they can win at the SBC Center! Actually, no, sorry. Once again those pesky circumstances rear their ugly heads.
You see, Duncan, with his +/- of +16.6 was out. Ginobili, with his +/- of +15.5, was also out. DEN won by 3 points. The Spurs were up by 7 with 3 minutes to go and gave it away. DEN proved exactly diddly.
Let's look at the schedule.
Three days off. Game 1. Two days off. Game 2. Two more days off. Game 3. One day off. Game 4. One day off... You get the picture. No back to backs. Plenty of rest for Ginobili, Parker and the big mens' ankles.
Let's talk about how the teams matchup.
DEN loves to run. They actually lead the league in fast break points. How do you combat the fast break? First, you don't turn the ball over. The Spurs are 6th in the league in fewest turnovers committed. Second, you play disciplined defense and have players willing to bust their ass to get back. Hmm. The Spurs play the most disciplined defense in the league.
DEN's first option on offense is Carmelo Anthony. He takes about 5 more shots then their second option, Punkie. Here's the thing. Bruce Bowen owns 'Melo. Carmelo has a career 31.8% shooting percentage against the Spurs. He's 20-66 this year and he was 22-66 last year.
A review. DEN loves to run, which is very hard to do against the Spurs. DEN's first option on offense consistently struggles mightily against the Spurs.
Everyone's talking about the Spurs injuries, but DEN has it's own. Najera is probably out the first two games with a broken hand. Though no one seems to be talking about it, Camby isn't 100% either. He was held out of the last 3-4 games of the season with a hamstring problem. And this wasn't simply resting him, either. They put him on the IL right before a huge game with the Rockets; a game that basically sealed the Nuggets fate as a 7 seed.
Everyone seems to be talking about the Nuggets. Uh, do people realize they're playing the Spurs? A team that went 59-23 despite not having it's best player for 16 games? A team that last year narrowly lost to the WC Champion Lakers? They do realize that this year's team is better, right? Let's look at the differences in the rosters.
That's a dramatic improvement. Not to mention that Parker and Ginobili are much better players this year.
I'm not sure people realize how good this team really is. Knickerblogger.net keeps track of team efficiencies. Basically, offense and defense are broken down into how many points you score/allow per possession. The PHX and DEN type teams are going to allow more points simply because they play faster than teams like SA. These stats are more meaningful than the typical points per game stats.
Not surprisingly, the Spurs are the best defensive team. DEN is eighth, which is admittedly higher than I expected. But, of course, DEN has a better offense. Oh. Wait. They don't. There's those pesky facts again. The Spurs have the 6th best offense in the league. DEN is 13th. The Heat and the Mavericks are the only other two teams in the top 10 in both categories.
Here's another thing to think about. Let's look at how Duncan led Spurs teams have done in the playoffs:
97-98 -- Lost in WC semis to UTA (who lost to CHI in the Finals)
98-99 -- World Champs
99-00 -- Duncan doesn't play in playoffs due to injury
00-01 -- Lost in WC finals to LAL (eventual World Champs)
01-02 -- Lost in WC semis to LAL (eventual World Champs)
02-03 -- World Champs
03-04 -- Lost in WC semis to LAL (who lost to DET in the Finals)
Take a closer look at that. Think about the teams that eliminated Duncan's Spurs. All of those teams had either Malone and Stockton (Duncan's rookie year) or Kobe and Shaq. No other team even took the Spurs to a decisive seventh game. Let that sink in. Kobe and Shaq. Winners of 3 consecutive titles. The duo that took a ridiculously bad supporting cast to the finals.
And I'm supposed to worry about fucking Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin? When Bowen owns Carmelo and Martin got embarassed by Duncan in the 2003 NBA Finals? When the schedule favors the Spurs? When the Spurs have home court? Are you serious?
Spurs in 5.