The experienced San Antonio Spurs pose the only threat for the Miami Heat in their pursuit of the consecutive wins record, writes Steve Dilbeck.
NBA: San Antonio Spurs making noise after quietly winning for years
San Antonio Spurs are not one of the NBA's popular teams, and never have been. Unless you are partial to winning. Winning, the Spurs know about.
Last week, they became the first team in NBA history to win 50 or more games in 14 consecutive seasons. During that time, they have won four NBA titles – second only to Los Angeles Lakers, who won five.
They again have the best record in the Western Conference, but fans seem more enthralled with the rising Oklahoma City Thunder, or the dunk-happy LA Clippers, or the streaking Denver Nuggets or even the Lakers and their superstar mash-up.
And then there are the Spurs, who seem too old for all of this, still plugging along, still a quiet force, and easily the biggest risk to Miami Heat's run at the NBA record for consecutive victories, when the clubs meet on Sunday.
Perhaps a victory over LeBron James & Co would bring some recognition, but probably not.
The Spurs are not flashy, they play in a small market and their best player, Tim Duncan, probably would go unrecognised on the streets of the city were he not 6ft 11ins.
They are also an old team. They have six players 31 or older. Duncan is 36, Manu Ginobili 35 and Stephen Jackson 34.
If they are not the players from their youth, they are still strikingly effective. Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.67 blocks per game.
"He's just unbelievable. He's figuring out how to play great at his age," said Tiago Splitter, the Spurs centre. "It's not easy. He's not the same guy he was 10 years ago."
Duncan, however, is no longer the Spurs' leading scorer. For the third consecutive season, the French point guard Tony Parker leads San Antonio in average scoring (21.0) and assists (6.7).
Parker returned from an ankle injury on Friday, in time to hone his game for the play-offs.
"He's feeling good and, obviously, he's our attack guy on the floor and he is the guy we go through in the fourth quarter," Duncan said of Parker.
The man who keeps this engine running is Gregg Popovich, who on Friday became only the 12th coach in NBA history to earn 900 victories. Popovich, perhaps the best coach in the league, has a knack for getting the most out of his players, blending youth with his veterans.
Kawhi Leonard, 21, is a key contributor in his second season, averaging 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds.
"He's a stud," Popovich said. "He's not afraid to shoot the ball. He knows he has licence to play."
Popovich's Spurs are efficient on offence, tenacious on defence, take care of the ball and always focus on fundamentals. The types of things that do not guarantee attention, just plenty of victories.
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