Spurs' dominance is their own, but also a function of imbalance
There's no denying the Spurs' greatness, or the continued conference imbalance that plagues the NBA.
The Spurs' dominance is a thing of beauty to be appreciated, admired and cast into the historical vortex and wonder where their 17-year run of brilliance ranks. On the cusp of their fifth championship -- and fourth with the core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- the scope of their sustained success is staggering.
Their latest handiwork -- a dismantling of the star-powered Miami Heat to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals -- also must be viewed through another prism. That would be the ongoing imbalance between the Eastern and Western conferences.
This is an issue we explored some weeks back, before we knew the Dallas Mavericks would push the Spurs to seven games in the first round and before we knew the Indiana Pacers would go missing. In the final analysis, there were only two teams of consequence in the Eastern Conference playoff field, and one of them regressed too much to give Miami a worthy challenge in the conference finals.
In the West, nine teams won at least 48 games during the regular season compared to only four in the East. Of course, only eight of those Western Conference teams could make the playoffs, with Phoenix (48-34) being the odd team out. It was the 11th time in 14 seasons that the ninth-place team in the West had a better record than the eighth-place team in the East. The last time the East's No. 8 seed had a better record than the No. 8 seed in the West was 1998-99.
The Spurs won a league-high 62 games, even with their schedule tilted toward the more difficult conference. With a 107-86 thrashing of the Heat on Thursday night, they became the first team in NBA history to win back-to-back road games in the Finals by 15 points or more. They joined Bill Russell's 1960 Boston Celtics as the only teams to have 15-point victories in three Finals games.
One logical takeaway is that the Spurs are simply better than everybody else. In fact, assuming they don't become the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 Finals lead, that is indisputably true.
But their utter dominance of the best team the East has to offer also points to another truth: overall, the West has been superior to the East for a long time.
If the Spurs beat a 49-win Mavs team, a 54-win Blazers team and a 59-win Thunder team to reach their sixth Finals, why would anyone expect the 54-win Heat -- who barely got a fight from the Bobcats (43), Nets (44) and Pacers (56) -- to give them trouble?
In fact, if the NBA seeded teams 1-16 regardless of conference, who's to say the Heat would've gotten past the likes of the Clippers, Rockets, Blazers or Warriors in the earlier rounds?
This is not to diminish what the Spurs are on the verge of accomplishing, nor is it to dismiss the Heat, who, of course, beat the Spurs in last year's Finals. With the precision, togetherness and determination the Spurs have displayed, it's hard to make the case that anyone would've stood much of a chance.
But if nothing else, San Antonio's demolition of the Heat through four games adds another reference point to the NBA's problem of conference imbalance. For now, there's no viable solution other than to stand, applaud and appreciate all that they've done -- while wondering how many championships they would've won if they'd played in the East.
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