(Reuters) - While the NBA season has been dominated by the record-setting Golden State Warriors and Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly played in the background plotting to steal the final headlines.
Like their understated superstar, Kawhi Leonard, the perennial championship-contending Spurs remain silent but deadly heading into their 19th consecutive postseason.
The Spurs (67-15) went 40-1 at home in the regular season to match the NBA record set by the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. In any other season the achievement would be front and center but the Warriors (73-9) have relegated the Spurs to second billing and the Western Conference’s second seed.
But away from the spotlight is a place where the small market Spurs are quite comfortable.
“We didn’t care one way or the other (about the home mark),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich told reporters.
The team’s reticent coach celebrates only NBA championship banners – Popovich has led San Antonio to five – and the battle-tested Spurs share his big picture outlook.
“Going into the playoffs (the home wins) doesn’t mean nothing,” said Leonard, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 NBA Finals. “Everyone knows your game plan and how you play at home. (You play to) get a position in the playoffs and win a championship.”
The team’s title hopes have been shifted from the veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the broad shoulders of Leonard, 24, in recent years. Leonard, who last year was named the league’s best defensive player, has evolved into the team’s go-to scorer.
An uncharacteristic first-round playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers a year ago forced San Antonio to reload around him, so the franchise signed All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and savvy forward David West in the off-season.
San Antonio also added sharpshooter Kevin Martin last month giving them a roster arguably more talented than any of their championship years.
But are they durable enough?
Aldridge is currently nursing a finger he dislocated last week. Duncan, 39, and Ginobili, 38, are nearing the end of their careers while Parker’s NBA miles are also adding up.
”I feel great compared to last year. Last year I had a bunch of stuff, this year I feel pretty healthy,” Parker said. “We feel fine. We have (until the weekend) to prepare for our first game.”
There is an air of inevitability to the Spurs reaching the Western Conference finals and facing off against the defending NBA champion Warriors.
It would be a fitting showdown in many ways as the Warriors have made no secret about trying to model their franchise after the sustained excellence of the Spurs.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr won two titles with the Spurs as a player under Popovich and the Warriors offense is a revision of San Antonio’s pace and space, with ball movement spreading the floor and setting up three-point opportunities.
The student is now vying to become the master and the wily Spurs cede the attention to the Warriors and calmly await the challenge.
“They’re the best,” said West, of Golden State. “We’re chasing them.”
Editing by Frank Pingue