It was all too perfect wasn’t it? The San Antonio Spurs were cruising along with a incredible streak over the last six weeks despite not having Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili at times. No worries though because Tony Parker and company had more than picked up the slack. We’ll need to put the brakes on the Spurs after Parker tweaked an ankle and is out four weeks now.
It’s my opinion that Parker is the one guy the Spurs could not be without yet that’s exactly where San Antonio finds itself as the season heads into the latter stages. So what does this mean for teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies? I believe it means a lot and here’s a look at why for each team.
LA Clippers – You can already give the Pacific Division title to the Clips as they have a 9.5 game lead over Golden State entering play tonight. The bigger race Vinny Del Negro and company are interested in is catching the Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference. Currently, they are 3.5 games back and have won five straight with 21 games left on the schedule.
With weak division foes I can easily see the Clips making a run at the Spurs for that number one spot. The issue will be complacency as the Clippers will have closed out the division and will be facing a few teams desperate to get into the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder are just three back of the Spurs but are only up five on the Denver Nuggets in the Northwest Division. OKC is on a ten game stretch of 6-4 which tells me they still aren’t clicking yet the way they were earlier in the season. Unlike the Clippers, the Thunder can’t sleep on the team behind them. While making up five games over the final 20 isn’t impossible, it is unlikely but OKC is no position to bank on anything.
As far as catching the Spurs, they are just three games back. The Thunder will also have the Nuggets and Jazz to contend with in terms of teams in the division fighting to secure playoff spots and they have dates with each of the teams remaining. Until the Thunder can start playing better defensively and more consistently, I think the Clippers have a better chance then they do.
Memphis Grizzlies – I don’t have any designs on the Grizzlies catching the Spurs but I think the loss of Tony Parker can impact things down the stretch. Memphis has won eight of their last ten and plays the best defense of anyone in the Western Conference. The true impact of Parker’s absence will be on display when the two play each other for the final time in April. If Parker is back will it be at 100%? The real issue is how Parker can break down the Memphis defense.
The good news for San Antonio is obviously that they only have the one game remaining with Memphis and they are a deep team, but can they sustain an above .500 record in Parker’s absence? If I’m laying anything it’s on the Clippers to catch them but no one else.
Oklahoma City (+2.5) at LA Clippers – Right on cue the two closest teams to the Spurs hook up in LA. I just don’t care for the inconsistency of the Thunder right now. Take the Clips to win by five or more.
Miami (-5) at New York – LeBron James is coming off an amazing month of February and now takes the ‘Heat Show’ to Madison Square Garden. The Heat have own 13 straight games and the Knicks have strung together 3 in a row. This has all the makings of a classic in the Garden but I like the Heat to cover.