KFC Finger Lickin' Good Deal
Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs reacts during the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on February 25, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Matteo Marchi/NBAE via Getty Images

#IMHO: Pop and the Spurs, March Madness and NBA Playoff pretenders?

by Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.


From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 9:11 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

Mike,

At this point it’s basically old hat. I actually don’t think we’ve talked about them in IMHO all season. And yet, here we are again: The San Antonio Spurs are unstoppable. They recently reeled off nine wins in a row and are now sitting just outside the 4th seed in the Western Conference.

How, Sway? It’s unbelievable the way they just keep winning. Players come and go, even foundational-type players, and somehow they just cannot lose. They just clinched their 22nd consecutive winning season, and while they do have All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, they’ve also relied heavily on players like Derrick White. So yeah.

How do they do this alchemy? Is it a magic trick? Is it all Pop? How does this keep on happening, and why can’t anyone else figure out how to do it?

Gregg Popovich

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 11:37 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

It's Pop. It's the system. It's the terrific and consistent support from that fan base. It's the top-down stability and loyalty that's organized by R.C. Buford. As the adage goes, there are three things you can count on in life. Death. Taxes. And San Antonio posting winning seasons.

Credit Pop for adjusting everything from his coaching style and patience to his facial grooming throughout this season. There has been the retirement of NBA champions and superstars, trades of highly productive players and injuries to key rotation pieces. Yet the Spurs have persevered through it all and are still standing as a playoff threat. I'm not sure who wants to face them in the postseason. They may be a legit darkhorse as a contender to push to the West finals. Perhaps.

Lang, we talked about this earlier in the season and predicted this would happen. Earlier this week, the Greek Freak scored a career-high 52 points to become the 11th different player to notch a 50-point game this season, which is an NBA record. I said it then and feel even stronger now: In the NBA, 50 is the new 40. The adjusted pace of today's NBA certainly factors into the inflation of stats. Yet still, dropping 'fiddy' is dropping 'fiddy' - no doubt.

But does the accomplishment mean as much as it once did, all things considered? Does it now take someone to hit 60 to really impress us these days?

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk vs 76ers

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 9:05 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I still think the benchmark is 60. Which isn't to say 50 shouldn't mean anything, but when you look back through the years, a bunch of random dudes have dropped 50 in an NBA game, from my former high school teammate Shareef Abdur-Rahim to Dana Barros to Willie Burton.

But bump that figure up to 60, and the list gets a lot more elite, at least historically: Maybe the worst player on the list of guys to score 60 in a game is Gilbert Arenas, who was a three-time All-Star and made three second- and third-team All-NBA lists, or maybe Klay Thompson, who is fantastic. And the other guys on that list are names like Bryant, Baylor, West, and of course Chamberlain, Chamberlain, Chamberlain.

And don't look now, Mike, but it's March Madness once again, the greatest one-and-done tournament in college sports. What team do you have coming out on top? I don't watch much college basketball, but to me it seems like Duke is the smart pick. Who do you think will come out on top?

Zion Williamson

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:05 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Duke has been nearly unbeatable when their top four guys, anchored around Zion Williamson, are healthy and available. But I’m not deeply impressed with their depth beyond that core. Of course, in college, you don’t need much beyond that to be a dominant team. But there’s a randomness and a fluke-ness to the NCAA Tournament that renders Super Power teams a bit vulnerable.

If you gave me any of the top four seeds versus the field, I’m taking the field every time. Looking a little bit past the favorites, I think Michigan State and Kansas have a bit of a chip on their shoulders this season that, in some ways, has them overlooked or slightly undervalued entering the tournament. The stability and leadership of upperclassmen on those teams make them, to me, the teams I’ll watch closely and expect a long run through the field.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: We’re down to the final dozen games of the NBA regular season, and the race for the No. 1 seed in the West is still surprisingly tight. Denver can still overtake defending champ Golden State. Of the two teams that have shot up the standings this season to be in position to claim the No. 1 seeds in their respective conference, which do you buy more stock in to reach the conference finals, The Nuggets or the Bucks?

Bucks Nuggets matchup

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2019 10:37 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Can I choose neither?

I mean, if I have to make a choice, I’ll pick the Bucks, because I don’t think the Nuggets are one of the two best Playoff teams in the West. I capitalized the word “Playoffs” there because as we know, the NBA plays a different brand of basketball in the postseason than in the regular season – the pace slows down, physicality goes up, and every possession matters. And I just don’t know if this Nuggets team is ready for the crucible that is the NBA Playoffs.

I suppose you could make a similar argument about the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a team, after all, that got bumped in the first round of the postseason a year ago, albeit in seven games. And having grown up a Hawks fan, I watched firsthand as Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks teams got knocked out each season, even his 60-win squad from a few years back.

The short of it is, winning in the NBA is totally different than winning in the NBA Playoffs. Regular season domination is one thing. But in the Playoffs? You gotta prove it, first.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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