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Now that's progress (cont.)

Posted: Thursday March 8, 2007 4:07PM; Updated: Thursday March 8, 2007 6:25PM
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Scout's Take

Fabricio Oberto (right) has given the Spurs a different look across the front line.
Fabricio Oberto (right) has given the Spurs a different look across the front line.
John W. McDonough/SI
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The runaway seasons by the Mavericks and Suns have made the three-time champion Spurs almost an afterthought. Still, with a 43-18 record heading into Thursday night, San Antonio is far from a lightweight. Does a veteran-laden Spurs club still have enough juice to take down its hungry rivals in the West? SI.com checked in with an opposing team's advance scout to find out.

"San Antonio's done a terrific job of evolving. They have really changed their philosophy defensively this year. For years they had to contend with the big, bullying teams in the Western Conference, and one in particular: L.A. with Shaq. They knew they were going to have to go through Shaq, and that they were going to have to add guys to the roster with that in mind alone. They had David [Robinson] and Tim [Duncan]. Then they got [Rasho] Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed. At the time, and with the rules the way they were, San Antonio really used its length to its advantage. A lot of its defense was predicated on keeping those bigs in the paint, trying to limit penetration, and when you did get beaten, funnel them to those bigs.

"With the rule changes, where you can't put hands on guys on the perimeter, players are able to drive almost unimpeded. So they bring in Francisco Elson and use [Fabricio] Oberto and say, 'We're going to go with less girth and more quickness and mobility because we don't have to play this big, imposing front line anymore. Our problem now is dealing with all of this quickness on the perimeter and guys getting beaten on the dribble.'

"You know what you're going to get out of Tim. [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker are the two guys who have to take the torch. Their consistency and their [ability to] come through in crunch time, certainly playoff crunch time, is going to be the difference in whether San Antonio can be the champion again or just another very good team."

Seat Selection For March 9-15

The best -- and worst -- games of the week ahead

Courtside
Suns at Mavericks, Wed., March 14
If either of these teams were in the East, they'd pretty much have wrapped up home court through the playoffs by now. As neither is, this game should at least offer a sneak preview as good as the seven-game movie likely to premiere in late May. Nash. Nowitzki. Stoudemire. Cuban. We can't think of a better lead-in to the best the NCAA has to offer than the best the NBA has to offer.
Behind The Backboard
Heat at Nets, Thurs., March 15
Looks like Shaq had a bit more left than many thought, me included. A motivated Shaq is good enough alone to get a team into the playoffs, let alone one coached by Pat Riley. This all figures to make the Nets' road to the postseason harder than anyone thought after Dwyane Wade was sideline with a separated shoulder. That makes a win over the Heat at home imperative not only for a playoff berth but also to keep out of a first-round matchup likely to send them packing quickly.
Upper Deck
Nuggets at Kings, Sun., March 11
For as much as everyone bemoans the state of the East, consider the Kings. The owners aren't happy with the town, the town isn't happy with the team, the team isn't happy with the coach and no one is happy with Ron Artest. Yet, at four games under .500 as of Thursday morning, Sacramento was within one game of a playoff spot. That doesn't sound like dominance to us, as the Nuggets will help the Kings demonstrate.
Give 'Em Away
Clippers at Warriors, Fri., March 9
What's worse? A team whose players have quit on their coach or a team whose coach has quit on his players (see more on Nelson below)? This game should offer plenty of answers.

The Top 10: Efficiency experts and flops

Stretching a player's stats over a 48-minute average often can reveal a star hidden on the bench, one whose efficiency is overlooked in the few minutes of game action he gets. Of course, it could also reveal those whose numbers are as much as function of PT as talent. Herewith, our look at five of the more quietly efficient players this season and five of their most wasteful colleagues.

Put me in, coach

5. Josh Smith: 3.8 blocks per 48 minutes

The only player among the top 25 rebounders per 48 who isn't a center or a power forward. That's right, and he's Hawk; maybe Atlanta isn't as far away from respectability as many think.

4. Rajon Rondo: 3.46 steals per 48 minutes

Sebastian who? Rondo still has yet to prove he can shoot consistently, but with quick hands, he's already become a valuable contributor and one of the few players who has a future in Boston.

3. Sarunas Jasikevicius: 8.4 assists per 48 minutes

Stuck behind Jamaal Tinsley in Indiana and Baron Davis at Golden State, Jasikevicius appears capable of playing more than a token 14 minutes a night for the Warriors.

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