The San Antonio Spurs have accomplished enough in the last 15 years to have earned the benefit of the doubt during cold streaks, but fans could be forgiven for questioning their ability to contend after recent struggles in the midst of the team's annual (and usually very solid) Rodeo Road Trip. After starting off the nine-game jaunt at 2-1, San Antonio fell into a four-game slide after the All-Star Break that included convincing losses to ostensible peers like the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Portland Trail Blazers. Worse yet, future Hall of Fame point guard Tony Parker endured several of the worst games of his career and looked to be a shell of the player he was just a few months prior.
Less than two weeks later, the Spurs are back in form and looking set to rejoin the title conversation. Tuesday night's 117-107 win over the Toronto Raptors marked their sixth-straight victory and moved the Spurs to just a half-game behind the Clippers for sixth in the conference. As this first-quarter dunk from Kawhi Leonard proves, San Antonio looked very good early:
If that's not enough, Kawhi also beat the first-quarter buzzer on this jam:
San Antonio jumped out to a 61-41 halftime lead and extended the margin to as many as 26 in the third quarter before Toronto began to come back. The Raptors got the lead down to as few as six points in the final minutes, but the Spurs never looked especially vulnerable and ended up with a well-earned win. Leonard was clearly the star of the night with 24 points (11-of-19 shooting), 11 rebounds, and five steals, but the play of Parker was arguably more important as a bellwether for the Spurs. His 23 points (9-of-20 FG) and nine assists continued a streak of four-straight games of at least 19 points and 45 percent shooting from the field. The Spurs look dangerous again.
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However, it's fair to wonder if they are back among the league's elite. Those six wins have come against the Sacramento Kings (twice), Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Chicago Bulls, and Raptors, all teams that have struggled throughout the season or presently. For instance, Toronto is at fourth in the East but is mired in a run of nine losses in their last 10 games. Given the recent schedule, Thursday's nationally televised game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the AT&T Center looks like a more substantial test of the Spurs.
At the same time, San Antonio's six wins have all been by at least nine points, with two coming by 27 apiece (vs. Sacramento and at Phoenix). The Spurs are handling teams in a manner we've grown accustomed to during the Popovich-Duncan era. After the struggles of late February, it's a welcome return to the familiar for the defending champs.
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