Tim Duncan and San Antonio have their eyes on the standings as the regular season comes to a close
POSTED: Apr 11, 2015 1:24 AM ET
HOUSTON — Unbelievable.
That's what Tony Parker calls it.
To watch Tim Duncan, who'll turn the ripe old age of 39 in just a couple weeks, miss a costly layup at one end of the floor and come right back 38 seconds later with the block on James Harden's layup barely ahead of the horn that saved the game.
To watch the Spurs transform themselves from roadkill back into the killer elite in a six-week span of resuscitation of the kind that is usually accompanied by defibrillators in an emergency room.
"If you put it in perspective with all the injuries, the struggles in the middle of the season, that would be great for us to get second place," Parker said.
It could happen.
Looking punch-drunk and out on their feet in February, the defending NBA champs beat the Rockets 104-103 for their 10th win a row and 20th in the last 23 games.
In the process, the Spurs have turned the Western Conference standings that were already packed tighter than a fat man convention in an elevator into their own personal bowling alley and sent pins scattering everywhere.
They have now moved all the way to the No. 3 seed and are still looking up.
Blink and you'll miss it. Take the time to sneeze and the whole world might change by the time you hear, "Godzundheit."
The Spurs were down by 12 points almost before the national anthem stopped echoing around the Toyota Center, but pulled themselves together and went to the venerable well of Duncan for one of those 29-point, 10-rebound, three-blocks games that makes you wonder the location of his home planet.
That's what Duncan calls it.
To watch the way the Spurs maintained their composure when the Rockets smacked them in the mouth right out of the gate, kept their wits about them and slowly and steadily shimmied up the rope and climbed back into the game.
To watch the Spurs steadily reassembled their broken, ailing parts and begin to reassemble the machine that rolled to The Finals and then flattened LeBron James and the Heat last June.
"Awesome. Yes, it is," Duncan said. "We've given away a bunch of games this year that we regret, especially coming down the stretch here. It's great to be where we are, amazing to be where we are. But we're playing right at the right time and that's what you want. We're healthy at the right time. That's what you want. Hopefully we can close out these last two games and end it.
"I've actually been looking (at the standings) this year more than any other, because it changes so much. Usually you know where you are and where you stand. But from game to game things change so much, so I've been looking at it a bit, just trying to figure out where we are, where we could be. It gives me a headache, so I just stopped looking."
It would probably be less painful to hit yourself in the head with a hammer than to attempt sorting out the West standings. There are four teams — Grizzles, Spurs, Clippers and Rockets — all within one game of each other. While the Warriors have the top spot locked up and the Trail Blazers locked in the middle at No. 4 at the Northwest Division winners, where everyone else parks changes faster than a trailer park in a twister. And from here on in, it only promises to get wilder.
Memphis (54-25) plays at the Clippers, at the Warriors and home against the Pacers to close out the season.
San Antonio (54-26) plays at home against the Suns and at New Orleans.
Los Angeles (53-26) plays the Grizzlies at home, Denver at home and at Phoenix.
Houston (53-26) plays the Pelicans at home, at Charlotte and the Jazz at home.
That's not even getting into the mad scramble between the Pelicans and Thunder for the No. 8 seed, the last spot in the playoffs.
There are three-way tiebreakers and four-way tiebreakers. If you have the smarts or the audacity to solve the equation, your next stop might be at a negotiating table in the Middle East.
That's what Manu Ginobili calls it.
To watch Duncan turn back the clock again and again.
"Today was the third game in four nights," Ginobili said. "I was tired. I was sore. And the guy comes. He's as old as dirt, as Pop always says. He comes with 29 points, the game-winning shot-block. Are you kidding me? It's ridiculous.
It was just this side of preposterous to watch Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the master manipulator, take the ball and the ballgame out of the hands of Harden, the league's leading scorer, by repeatedly fouling the wayward free throw shooter Josh Smith all through the second half. Eleven different times Popovich took intentional fouls on Smith in the second half. He wound up making just 12 of 26 free throws on the night. Harden, the MVP candidate, could never find a rhythm, shot 5-for-19 in the game and there were the Spurs at the end, bobbing up to the No. 3 seed like a cork in water.
"Yeah, completely," Ginobili said. "When we lost those four games in a row on the (rodeo) road trip (Feb. 19-25), even the playoff part was not guaranteed. We were starting to worry a little bit, because we got everybody back, everybody was healthy at that point and we were not playing well.
"There were some concerns. Nobody, nobody could have thought that we were with two games to go fighting for the second spot. It's ridiculous.
"I'm watching the standings a little bit. Not going crazy yet, because when it's so clogged anything can happen. We know Memphis has got a tough schedule. They've got to play the Clippers and the Warriors. The Clippers are good.
Then even for us to have to go into New Orleans in the last game and they're going to be fighting for the last seed? It's going to be crazy."
And a whole lot of fun.
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