Apr 13, 2015 3:20 PM

As playoffs near, the Spurs rounding into top form

The Associated Press

Must be spring. Here comes San Antonio.

Winners of 22 of their last 26 games to close last year's regular season the perfect tuneup to what became a title run the Spurs are at it again. They're 21-3 in their last 24 games, rising from the bottom of the Western Conference playoff pack to quite possibly the team to beat in this year's playoffs.

And the message from those who've played them lately? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

"To me, they're still the best team in the NBA," Miami forward Udonis Haslem said.

Golden State and Atlanta might argue, but perhaps to no avail. Since Feb. 27, no team in the league has a better record, better scoring average, better field-goal percentage or better free-throw percentage than the Spurs who figure to have a great chance to do the one thing that's missing from their franchise's glistening resume.

The five-time champions have never won back-to-back titles. That might change.

"They are rounding into form," said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, whose team has the No. 1 overall playoff seed. "They are doing what championship teams do. You try to make it through the regular season. You try to peak at the right time and they are peaking. They are playing awfully well."

For much of the year, the Spurs looked, well, mortal.

They lost nine out of 13 in one stretch in December, including a bizarre run of three straight home defeats one in overtime, then the other two both in triple overtime over a three-day span. They came back from the All-Star break as their annual road trip when the rodeo visits San Antonio continued, and promptly lost four in a row.

"It's usually around the rodeo trip in February where we really kind of turn that corner, but it didn't work out that way this time and it took a little longer," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "But I think we finally are at a place where we're starting to feel that confidence build and we got some legs."

What they got was healthy.

It took Kawhi Leonard the NBA Finals MVP from last year about half the season to get right, after dealing with first an eye infection and then a torn hand ligament. Tony Parker basically had to sit out all of December. Manu Ginobili missed four games last month with a bad ankle.

Now, they're rolling.

"We are starting to play the way we want to play right now," Duncan said. "Starting to."

Scary thought, given the way they're playing right now.

The Spurs have won their last 11 overall basically going from No. 7 to No. 2 in the West in that span, although the second seed is far from locked up and are 15-1 at home since February began. That one home loss came on a night where Cleveland's Kyrie Irving scored 57 points in one of the best shooting displays the league has seen in a long time.

From March 25 through April 8, not only did the Spurs win all nine of their games, but they won each by at least 12 points. No team in NBA history has ever had a longer such streak; San Antonio's run matched the 2008-09 Cavaliers and the 2011-12 Heat.

And remember, this is a team that when it lost to the woebegone New York Knicks not long ago had coach Gregg Popovich saying postgame that "it was a pathetic performance and I hope that every player is embarrassed."

That was on March 17. The Spurs have lost once since, and Popovich says what the Spurs are doing without the ball has been key.

"We know we can't win a championship without defense. Everybody knows that," Popovich said. "So our defense has been great."

At some point, this unbelievable Spurs run 16 straight 50-win seasons, 18 straight seasons winning at least 61 percent of their games, 18 straight playoff appearances once they start play against someone in a Game 1 this weekend will end. Duncan turns 39 in a couple weeks. Ginobili is 37. Popovich is 66.

Of course, people have been saying that about the Spurs for a while.

"We've always done this since I've been here," Parker said. "When the playoffs come everybody clicks and we start playing better basketball."

But how?

"I have no idea," Parker said. "That's just how it is here."


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