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    As NBA playoffs loom, it's so easy to overlook Spurs' quiet, understated brilliance

    Apr 2, 2017

    CHICAGO - In NBA basketball, a team is either an explosive scoring machine or a defensive juggernaut. And never shall the twain meet.

    Except of course, the San Antonio Spurs, who symbolize sustained excellence through continued superiority on both ends of the floor, a rarity in today's game where the lust to score makes defense an afterthought.

    With their high-octane, pedal-to-metal offensive onslaught, the Golden State Warriors are the league's globally embraced darlings. At 62-14, they lead the overall standings, weathering a giant storm after Kevin Durant was sidelined by knee and leg injuries.

    But while Steph Curry and his crew are heavyweights in scoring, also No. 1 at 115.7 points per game, they are lightweights on defense, surrendering 104.2 points a contest.

    James Harden's bushy beard and the Houston Rockets soar as the second highest-scoring quintet at 115.3 per, but they, too, are hemorrhaging on defense, yielding an extremely generous 108.9 a contest.

    In losing to the Milwaukee Bucks last January 23, the Rockets gave up 127 points. They scored 142 to tame the Minnesota Timberwolves a month later, but Houston bled for 130 points along the way. Two days ago, the Rockets were grounded by the Blazers, 117-103.

    For as long as LeBron James plays for Cleveland, the Cavaliers will always be a title threat. Sadly, the defending champions haven't been doing a lot of defending lately, making the label "defending champs" an oxymoron like organized chaos and military intelligence.

    The Cavaliers' produce a robust 110 points a game, but their defense is in failing health, giving up 106.7 points a contest while allowing the opposition to shoot a mortifying 50.2 percent of their two-point field goals and 36.4 percent from downtown. 

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    Mired in an epic slump, Cleveland finished the month of March with a pedestrian 7-10 mark. In those 10 losses, only the Bulls didn't score over 100 points. At 48-27 the Cavs have fallen to No.2 in the East Conference, their confidence dropping faster than the Iranian Rial. 

    SAME OLD SPURS. Beneath all the headlines, meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs are cruising along nicely like a 1958 Chevy Impala.

    When the 2017 NBA playoffs begin this April 17, it will mark the 20th consecutive postseason appearance for the Spurs, an NBA record. It's an amazing feat considering that Tim Duncan is happily retired while Tony Parker, 34, and Manu Ginobili, 39, will soon dine on early bird specials for senior citizens.   

    Although they do not score with wretched excess, the Spurs aren't chopped liver, either, firing 106.1 points a game. They convert 47.1 percent of their field goals, 39 percent of their triples and 80.1 percent from the free throw stripe.

    Unlike Cleveland, where a "drama queen" reigns, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, or Golden State, where Curry and KD attract more cameras than Kris Aquino, all is quiet on the western front that is San Antonio. 

    Wonderfully unburdened by both the limelight and big media market expectations, the Spurs are going about their business with circus-free efficiency.

    They allow just 98.2 points per, limiting opponents to 44.2 percent from the field and 34.2 from three-point range. Early this season, with their defense in full lockdown mode, the Spurs silenced the Warriors, 107-85, and bludgeoned the Cavs, 103-74. 

    UNIQUE MIX.  A glorious blend of young and old legs help make the Spurs a savvy, formidable bunch that owns an imposing 58-17 record, including 29-9 on the road. 

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    An old-timer at 36, his skills steeped in 17 years of NBA wars, Pau Gasol is still getting it done, norming 12.5 points and 7.6 rebounds at the starting center slot. LaMarcus Aldridge, 31, is earning his US $20.5 million salary by averaging 17.5 markers while hitting 47.3 percent of his shots.

    Former Warrior David Lee, 33, logs just 18.5 minutes off the bench but he makes those stints meaningful with 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds an outing. Danny Green and Patty Mills have yet to turn 30 but both can turn hot at a moment's notice, averaging a combined 17.2 points.  

    High-leaper Jonathon Simmons, 27, and cool cat Kyle Anderson, 23, add to the depth. But it's 25-year old Kawhi Leonard who best personify the Spurs' double-edged sword.

    A two-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard can defend the league's mightiest scorers every night while still churning in an average of 25.9 points on the offensive end.

    As the playoffs loom into sight, the noise about a Warriors-Cavs NBA Finals trilogy is getting louder. But when June rolls around, don't be surprised if the Spurs will hush all the talks with their - what else - quiet and understated brilliance. 

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