Hollinger predicts San Antonio Spurs to finish first in Western Conference

By Quixem Ramirez

Jan 29, 2011; San Antonio, TX, USA; (From right) San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, forward Tim Duncan, guard Tony Parker watch the game from the bench during the fourth quarter at the AT

Having maintained the majority of their roster from last season, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t in line for drastic improvements. Continuity will keep them afloat for the duration of the regular season and the Spurs will likely win between 55-64 wins this season, good for one of the top three seeds in the Western Conference.

Winning in the regular season is not a question for this team — they have locked down the No. 1 seed in two consecutive years — but advancing deep into the postseason may be a potential pitfall.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City are more equipped — more talented, really — for the truncated postseason. The Spurs could not defeat the Thunder in last year’s Western Conference Finals and, unless the Spurs’ pick-and-roll defense improves, the Lakers top-heavy offensive attack will be an unfavorable matchup.

Despite this, ESPN statistician John Hollinger predicts the Spurs will earn the No. 1 seed with 60 wins. Depth and Gregg Popovich, Hollinger believes, makes the Spurs an optimal regular season team. Plus, the front office has enough acuity to exploit various market deficiencies during the season — picking up Boris Diaw off the scrap heap and flipping the disgruntled Richard Jefferson for Stephen Jackson are prime examples.

Here is Hollinger’s take on the Spurs (Insider):

Rumors of this team’s demise continue to be greatly exaggerated. In the regular season in particular, it’s hard to see how the Spurs will fall behind the pack much, if at all, given their three stars (and perhaps a fourth emerging one in Leonard) and how incredibly deep they are — San Antonio’s 13th man, Patty Mills, would be a rotation player on a lot of teams. Meanwhile, six Spurs — Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Leonard, Blair and Splitter — all project to have a PER of 18 or better.

Combine that with what we already know — that the front office isn’t going to screw up, that coach Gregg Popovich manages his players’ wear and tear as well as anyone, and that they had the West’s best record with Ginobili playing half a season in 2011-12 — and it becomes hard to pick anybody to finish ahead of this gang.

Should the Spurs lock up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, it could eliminate the disparity in talent a bit. It is not a guarantee — as the Spurs can attest to — but playing in the AT&T Center more often than not can’t hurt.