The combination of the San Antonio Spurs beating the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers losing to the Golden State Warriors clinched the #1 seed in the Western Conference for the Spurs. Not only that, the results of last night’s games reversed a trend that started back when the Spurs went on their losing streak last month.
For the 2nd straight game, San Antonio took control of the 2nd half and closed out a victory. Perhaps most impressive was that it was the 2nd of a back-to-back set and when the starters came out to rest, the bench not only held it together but increased the lead. George Hill is really becoming a force on that 2nd unit which the Spurs desperately need because the three-point shooters have struggled lately. San Antonio was particularly impressive with their ball movement and look like they are well on their way to getting back into a flow and riding a winning streak before the playoffs begin. Manu Ginobili stood out with 25 points and five assists with just one turnover in 29 minutes of play.
A few days ago in the Daily Six Shooter, we told you about a possible shift in the Spurs big man rotation. Gregg Popovich had given signals that Tiago Splitter would start to get more playing time and that DeJuan Blair would be sharing his minutes off the bench. So far that hasn’t happened, but a subtle change has been made. When Blair was a starter, there would be times where he’d get the ball in the low block and was allowed to go to work. For a while, he was successful. He had particularly mastered the art of the reverse layup. But at a certain point he started struggling to the point where he lost his starting job to Antonio McDyess.
While Blair is now coming off the bench, he’s still getting his minutes. The big change is that he’s no longer a secondary offensive option the way he used to be. Aside from the occasional wide open dunk set up by a great pass, Blair is primarily being utilized now as a rebounder and defender. As the playoffs have drawn closer, Duncan and McDyess handle all the offense among the true post players. In the last few games, it appears that Blair has settled into that role and we’ll see if he’s able to make it a success as the regular season nears and the playoffs get underway.
As for the Lakers, their three-game losing streak is something to take note of. In all three games, the coaches and players went in with the attitude of needing to win those games for a shot at the West’s #1 seed. The switch had been turned on. They were playing great basketball. And now, despite their best efforts, they’re losing. The look that Kobe Bryant had on his face after the last play against Utah a couple of nights ago was the look of a guy who’s taking a break before the playoffs.
And the road doesn’t get any easier for the Lakers either. LA travels to Portland on Friday and then hosts Oklahoma City on Sunday. Both of their next two opponents are locked into close battles for playoff seeds. Both are young, hungry, and looking to make a statement heading into the playoffs. And then they play against San Antonio in what will be a meaningless game for the Spurs, but could affect LA’s standing as the #2 seed if they don’t put a stop to their current losing streak before then.
Even though every team is virtually locked into the playoffs, there’s still some positions that are going to be settled and some drama that will play out before the regular season is up… and that’s why it was so big for the Spurs to lock down home court in the West on Wednesday night.
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