Is it just me or, in the last week or so, did the San Antonio Spurs suddenly start looking a lot like the Utah Jazz team of a decade ago?
You know, back around 2000-01, when the glorious Stockton-to-Malone Era was beginning to wind down and the Jazz started sputtering in postseason play despite putting together solid regular-season performances.
Sure, John Stockton and Karl Malone were still great players back then, but all those miles on the ol' wheels were steadily piling up and started to show on them at the end of the long haul that is an 82-game regular season, plus the preseason and postseason.
The Jazz won 55 games and the Midwest Division title in 2000, then were ousted in the second round of the playoffs. In 2001, after Jeff Hornacek — the third member of "The Three Amigos" — had retired, the Jazz finished second in the Midwest and again won 50-plus games.
But that year, Utah couldn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs — a trend that continued until Stockton retired and Malone left to chase a championship ring with the L.A. Lakers in 2003.
Well, the top-seeded Spurs just got pushed out of this year's playoffs, eliminated in somewhat stunning fashion Friday night by none other than the unheralded Memphis Grizzlies, a glamor-less franchise which had never won a playoff game before this year.
San Antonio took the Western Conference's top regular-season record (61-21) into the 2011 playoffs, only to get shoved around, bullied and embarrassed by a younger, quicker and, most importantly, hungrier bunch of Grizzlies who seemingly ignored the Spurs' past postseason success and this year's great regular-season record.
San Antonio should certainly feel very proud of those four NBA championships it has won since 1999. And the Spurs might want to savor them even more now because they may very well be walking down that same one-way path that the Jazz franchise took 10 years ago.
Tim Duncan has been a tremendous player in the league since 1997 but, at age 35 and with more than 1,200 NBA games on his creaky knees, "The Big Fundamental" is definitely starting to show his age — much like Malone did near the end of his own terrific career.
Manu Ginobili is only 33, still relatively young by NBA standards, but the wear and tear of the NBA's 82-game grind plus international play is starting to show on him, too. And while Tony Parker is still one of the premier point guards in the league, you have to question the intelligence of a guy who would cheat on his gorgeous former wife, Eva Longoria. I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to play basketball. I'm just sayin' ...
San Antonio's 36-year-old big man, Antonio McDyess, gave the eighth-seeded Grizzlies all the credit in the world after they made the Spurs look old, slow and out of sync.
"After you see what they did to us, they looked like the No. 1 seed and we looked like the No. 8 seed," McDyess was quoted in a story on The Sports XChange.
Indeed, if this first-round series is any indication, then the Spurs — much like the Jazz of a decade earlier — might surprisingly find that their best postseason days are now in the rear-view mirror.
The big difference, of course, is that the Spurs do have those four NBA titles to proudly rest their laurels on. And, sadly, that would be four more than Stockton, Malone and the Jazz were able to bring home.
San Antonio must now regroup and try to figure out what in the world went wrong. But try as they might, the Spurs can't turn back the clock.
And in the meantime, hey, good for the Grizzlies, who have a somewhat obscure tie-in to the Beehive State — their head coach, Lionel Hollins, starred at Dixie Junior College in St. George in the early 1970s before moving on to play at Arizona State, followed by a 10-year NBA career.
Now, of course, we can claim him as one of our own, at least until the Grizzlies are eliminated from this year's playoffs.
And as for me, well, I'll eat some Kentucky-fried crow, especially after my prediction in this space a couple of weeks ago about how the Spurs would reach the NBA Finals. So much for that one, huh?
Now, if only the Lakers would follow the Spurs' lead and find a way to get shocked and sent home early from the postseason.
I sure wouldn't bet the ranch on it, but we can always dream, can't we? After all, sometimes dreams do come true — just ask the Memphis Grizzlies.
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