Wiedmer: Spurs look like NBA's best right now

Wiedmer: Spurs look like NBA's best right now

May 12th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

It's a little early to call these NBA playoffs the greatest ever. Not with San Antonio already leading Portland 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series. Not with two-time defending champion Miami having won six of their first seven games, though a Brooklyn victory tonight against the visiting Heat would knot their best-of-seven at 2-2 and again make the Nets' regular-season sweep (4-0) of LeBron James' Gang worth talking about.

But the Los Angeles Clippers' 22-point rally against Oklahoma City on Sunday to tie the Thunder at 2-2 was the kind of victory that should have the attention of every NBA fan nationwide.

The Comeback Clippers -- Sunday was their 14th win of the season after trailing by double-figures -- didn't win this one on the 3-ball as they did the first game of the series, when they bagged 15 triples, including eight from point guard Chris Paul. Stunning as that triumph was on enemy wood, this is the one that should make OKC fans nervous.

LA looked the quicker team down the stretch, and the more aggressive team inside, thanks to Blake Griffin. They also had four players score 18 or more points while the Thunder had but two -- Kevin Durant with 40 and Russell Westbrook with 27.

This same issue -- the Thunder's lack of a reliable third banana in the scoring column -- has been mentioned before in the two seasons since OKC allowed James Harden to wind up with the Houston Rockets. Though it's all but impossible to stop KD and Westbrook, it's pretty hard for a two-man team to go all the way.

And the Clippers may not only have the better coach in Doc Rivers, but also the better passing point guard in Paul and the more intimidating center in DeAndre Jordan. Doesn't mean LA's story will continue for at least one more round, but any team that can blow a 22-point lead, even on the road, has question marks.

The biggest question for the Nets, of course, is whether or not Jay Z and Beyonce's boys can knock down another 15 3-pointers, as they did on Saturday night, including four from Mirza Teletovic.

As former NBA coach George Karl said on ESPN Sunday, "Normally, when you hit 15 of 25 3-pointers you're going to win."

But nobody hits 15 triples every night. If there's reasonable cause for concern from Miami's corner it might be the defense Paul Pierce has played on James of late. According to ESPN, when Pierce guarded James in Game 2, his average shot came from 18.6 feet instead of 9.6 feet against everyone else from the Nets.

Given that Pierce has reportedly guarded LeBron 62 total times over his career, that could become important if the former Celtic can keep James from getting near the hoop.

Then again, as long as Miami wins at home, they'll at least advance to the conference finals where they'll play ... Indiana?

The Clippers may have hogged the spotlight during this postseason thanks to their racist, adulterer owner -- the disgraced and now banished for life Donald Sterling.

But it's Indy's Pacers who have most perplexed, especially center Roy Hibbert. Believed to be the key to Indiana dethroning Miami in the East this season, Hibbert scored zero points in the Pacers' opening-game loss to Washington.

But one game later he scored 28 in an Indy win, which just one less point than Mr. Enigma had scored in the Pacers' previous seven games combined. He then followed that up with a 14-point effort in his team's Game 3 road win over the Wizards.

At its best, Indiana can still reach the NBA Finals. Especially since it owns home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. But assuming Miami outlasts the aging Nets, it's nearly impossible to see the Pacers playing well enough long enough to end the reign of King James prior to the Finals.

All of which brings us to the team that should have knocked off the Heat a year ago -- the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the NBA, didn't guide his team to a league-best 62-20 regular-season mark only because he knows better than to serve a bottle of wine before its time.

Yet much like a good Merlot, if the Spurs haven't exactly gotten better as Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (36) and Tony Parker (31) have aged, they certainly haven't faltered. Pop just keeps adding a few new grapes, tweaks the offense to make the most of his diverse talents and watches the wins roll in.

Or as Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge said after falling behind 3-0 to the Spurs on Saturday night: "They're just persistent. They play championship basketball."

Had it not been for two missed free throws in the final 25 seconds of regulation in last year's Game 6 overtime loss to the Heat, the Spurs would have been the defending champs instead of Miami. Instead, they are trying to win a fifth ring for the remarkable Duncan.

Good as these playoffs have been and should continue to be, as stirring as the Comeback Clippers' story, the best and classiest organization is San Antonio. And playing as they have against Portland, their persistent excellence should win them another title, Pop once more able to pop the cork on that bubbly wine known as champagne.

Unless, of course, that other team in predominantly black and white uniforms -- Brooklyn -- keeps hitting 15 3-pointers a night.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com