Coming into the playoffs, the Spurs were widely regarded as just a little too old, a little too slow and a little too tired to make another serious run at the title while the defending champion Lakers still generally enjoyed favorite status in the West.
Now, however, the Spurs look like a throw-back to 2005 while the Lakers look like the aging giant. After last night's riveting Game 4 win over the Mavericks, the Spurs find themselves up 3-1 in a series many (including the entire RCS staff) saw going to Dallas.
The Lakers, on the heels of a blowout loss on Saturday night, suddenly find themselves tied 2-2 with Oklahoma City. Kobe is worn down, the team's chemistry has seemed a little off all year (blame the Kardashians), and, for the second year in a row, they're having big problems with an upstart team. Maybe it's living among the stars in LA, but the Lakers seem to have an entitlement mentality that says they're supposed to glide unopposed to the Finals every year. It's a mentality that makes it difficult for them to deal with seemingly inferior teams challenging their supremacy. We saw it last year against the Rockets, and we're seeing it again this year against the Thunder. They get upset, they pack it in, and they get blown out. Of course, they were able to overcome it last year. But, Kobe Bryant's one year older and about four times more injured this year.
The Spurs, on the other hand, have never taken success for granted. To say they're gritty and hard-working is an understatement (just watch Manu Ginobili). Right now, they're playing stifling defense, they're getting contributions from everyone (see: George Hill), and they're completely unfazed by the drama of the moment (the way they handled Eduardo Najera's flagrant foul on Ginobili last night tells you everything you need to know).
Of course, there's enough time for the Lakers to hit their stride, and the Spurs still have moments of complete offensive ineptness (see last night's second quarter). For now, though, it's fascinating to watch the contrast between the two defining teams of the past decade. Clearly, the Spurs aren't content with four titles. The Lakers? It's tough to tell.