The short-handed San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of a league-best 11-game winning streak. Led by veteran All-Star point-guard Tony Parker, the Spurs are positioning themselves to make another championship run.
The Spurs are commonly perceived as an “older” squad because their core veteran players were all a part of the team’s title runs in the past decade. The Spurs are actually in the middle of a youth movement and possess one of the NBA’s youngest set of bench players.
Playing most of the season without guard Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have needed major contribution from their young players to help them remain contenders. The hottest team in the league holds the Western Conference’s second best record at 23-9.
Players like Gary Neal and Danny Green filled in nicely for the Spurs after their superstar went down with a broken hand.
"When you have guys that go down, I think sometimes it helps guys refocus knowing you have less room for error, everybody has to contribute," said veteran Richard Jefferson.
If the Spurs are to make a serious run at their fifth championship they will need Ginobili to be healthy during the playoffs. The Spurs started last year’s playoffs without Manu and had an unexpected early-exit as the Western Conference’s number one seed.
With a wide-open Western Conference the Spurs have the pieces to make another run. They do, however, need their superstar and established closer to compliment all of those pieces. The other Western Conference contenders all have a superstar closer to rely on during the playoffs. The Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder all have reputable leaders in Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant, respectively.
For now, the Spurs will continue to depend on their youth to remain as one of the league’s best teams. Having just returned from a 22-game absence Ginobili injured his chest, and will be out of action at least a couple of weeks.
"He just came back, played in a couple of games and was beginning to get in shape, get a rhythm, and then he goes down again,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “He's pretty depressed about it. Hopefully the team can be over it and realize he and Tiago are going to be gone for a while.”
Nicknamed “El Contusione” by former teammate Brent Barry, Ginobili has garnered a reputation as a walking contusion. Just like last season, the Spurs can’t afford to have Manu sidelined when the playoffs get underway.