Posted Jan 16 2011 11:10AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan said it's too early to be talking championship, and with four titles on his résumé, it's a good bet the Spurs franchise pillar knows what he's talking about. Trophies aren't won in January.
But as we reach the halfway point of the season, the Spurs definitely have that look. You know the one that separates good teams from potentially great ones. San Antonio has that confidence born of execution and precision, not of baseless braggadocio.
The core of this team -- Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker -- and coach Gregg Popovich know what it takes to win in June.
"We just want to continue to play," Duncan said Friday after the Spurs dismantled short-handed Dallas. "It's great to get off to this start and we wanted to get off to a fast start coming into this year. We want to be able to have homecourt advantage, if at all possible, in the playoffs."
The odds of that look pretty good. San Antonio remains on a 70-win pace and went into Sunday with a 4.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. The Mavericks, once neck-and-neck in a race with the Spurs for the league's best record, have dropped seven games back after injuries knocked Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler out of the lineup.
Despite his team's record start, Popovich continues to insist his team isn't the conference's best right now. That distinction still falls on the Lakers. The reasons are obvious enough to those who wear the silver and black, and that's why making plans for the beast of the East rings premature.
"The Lakers are right on our tail in terms of record, they're the three-time conference champs, two-time NBA champs and to start talking NBA Finals is early," forward Richard Jefferson said. "The only thing we can talk about is trying to get the No. 1 seed. I think that's the only thing as far as looking to the future that would even be respectable."
The Spurs have played a number of teams recently without many of their main players -- Dallas being the latest -- which has many questioning the legitimacy of San Antonio's 34-6 record going into tonight's visit from Denver (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). San Antonio has also been remarkably healthy, using the same starting lineup in every game so far.
The Spurs aren't just squeaking by most night. Seventeen of their wins, exactly half, are by nine or more points. Their scoring differential of 7.8 is second to only Miami. San Antonio also slams the door closed -- 26-1 when leading going into the fourth quarter -- and rallies when down -- 7-5 when losing going into the fourth.
"We're in a good position right now," Jefferson said. "Again we're halfway through the season, it's not like anyone around here is jumping up and down for joy. We lost to New York and Boston, we struggled at Indiana and Minnesota. Every game down here you have to fight for it."
Rare struggles aside, it's the Spurs that are bringing the fight to just about everyone.
"They put so much pressure on you defensively because they're quick and they have multiple scorers and they all seem to love to get into the paint and kick out to shooters," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said recently. "They're unselfish, all of them, everybody on that team has one agenda -- just finding a good shot and moving the ball.
"Defensively they've improved as the season has gone along. When push comes to shove, they're going to get stops. And now they have the speed and the quickness to make you work extremely hard on defense. And you have to pick your poison a lot."
While the Spurs don't want to talk title just yet, that's exactly what their playing for. It usually is.
"That's in the back of our minds," Duncan admitted. "We want to have that top seed, that homecourt advantage throughout, all that stuff, every advantage that you can get you wanna take. So we're off to a good start, we have a good lead and we want to sustain it."
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