With Or Without Duncan, Spurs Will Remain Contenders

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The only prediction about the future Sunday night came from Popovich, and it was about the Heat. Though the former champions are heading into an uncertain summer with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all eligible for free agency, he said Miami would be back.

It wasn’t long ago people had stopped saying that about San Antonio.

Beaten in the first round by rugged Memphis as the No. 1 seed in 2011, the Spurs didn’t look strong enough. Ousted by Oklahoma City the next year after building a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, San Antonio didn’t seem quick enough.

Yet the Spurs made the necessary tweaks, and when it wasn’t quite good enough last season against the Heat, they came back even more focused and left no doubt this time.

“We’ve adapted and come out here and been able to win another championship,” Duncan said. “So proud. It’s unbelievable.”

Popovich’s ability to manage minutes in the regular season, keeping his stars fresh and providing valuable experience for his role players, could position San Antonio for another lengthy playoff run. But there will be eager challengers ready to pounce, particularly if the Spurs just don’t have the same hunger after being driven through this season by the pain of last year’s finals loss.

Right within their own state, Houston or Dallas could change the balance of power by adding Carmelo Anthony. And of course James could stay in Miami with much stronger pieces around him, or join another club that would become an immediate title threat.

So the league could look very different. But with the Spurs on top again, it sure seems familiar now.

“The Spurs continue to get better. Obviously they kept those three guys intact, but they continue to put guys around them, high basketball-IQ guys around them, high-energy guys around them that fit into the system of what Pop wanted to do,” James said. “Obviously, it’s not just about the Spurs, it’s about the whole league. The whole league is excited about returning next season and we’ll see what happens.”

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