SAN ANTONIO (NBA/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Considered one of the best teams in the NBA in the last 15 years, the San Antonio Spurs are, season after season, always a serious contender for the NBA title.
Aside from losing game 7 against the Miami Heat in the NBA finals last year, the Texas based franchise is having another great season with 37 wins and 15 losses so far and are expected to fight again for the ring next May.
Led by the "Big Three" and veteran franchise players - Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker - the Spurs can also count on one deep and competitive roster to compensate for the injuries and old legs of the dynamic trio.
Blue collar players such as Kawhi Leonard, Italy's Marco Bellinelli, France's national team captain Boris Diaw and Brazil's big man Tiago Splitter have also been helping the Spurs to remain competitive and maintain consistency.
Sidelined for a month due to an injured shoulder during the beginning of the year, the former Caja Laboral player, who is usually paired with Duncan in the paint on the starting line-up, has proven to be one of the most efficient centers in the league over the last two seasons.
However, Splitter's affirmation in the NBA was not as easy as expected. Arriving in the most competitive league in the world with the status of a Euroleague superstar, the Blumenau native needed two years to make the Spurs' philosophy his own.
Now that he has proven himself to be an asset to the Spurs, he was offered a 36 million dollar contract over four years.
Apart from gaining more and more importance in San Antonio's game, Splitter is alongside Washington Wizards' Nêné Hilario, Phoenix Suns' Leandro Barbosa and Cleveland Cavaliers' Anderson Varejão one of the Brazilian flag bearers in the NBA and he is expecting to help his national team in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next summer.
Fiba.com caught up with Splitter to talk about his season and his future with the Brazilian national team.
FIBA: The San Antonio Spurs, in spite of having some of the key players being injured, are currently ranked second on the Western Conference. What do you think about the season of your team so far?
Splitter: The season has been going well but we are frustrated because of the injuries of some key players, such as Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard for example. We played some games without three or four of our most important players but every player has been trying to step up his game to compensate. I hope that everyone will be healthy at the end of the regular season so we can start the playoffs with the entire roster.
FIBA: The Spurs have recruited players such as Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres. Do you think that the team is better than last season?
Splitter: I think that the team has improved since last year. Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres are bringing more options to the roster and their contribution has been great so far. Belinelli has shown that he is a very smart player. He can shoot, defend and he reads the game very well. Ayres brings some athleticism in the paint as he can defend, block shots and grab rebounds. Apart from recruiting great players, I think also that our game has been improving because we gained more experience as a team.
FIBA: The Spurs have lost on game 7 against the Miami Heat in the finals last year. Do you think that the team can reach the NBA Finals and fight again for the title this season?
Splitter: Yes, we can reach the finals again and fight for the title. Losing on game 7 last year was very frustrating because I think that we could have won the ring. But we have to work on the mistakes we have done and think about the next playoffs. The title is always a goal for the San Antonio Spurs as it is written in the franchise's DNA. We have a great team and everyone's is working hard in order to win the title.
FIBA: After having a good start of season, you were sidelined for a month due to a shoulder injury. How do you feel since you came back from that injury?
Splitter: I feel better but I am not completely recovered from my injury. My shoulder is still a bit sore and I think that it will be fully healed in two or three weeks. I feel happy to be back on the court as I want to help my teammates win games. One month of the court is a lot and I just hope that I would feel healthy until the end of the season.
FIBA: You decided not to play with the national team last summer for the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship.
Splitter: I decided to not play because I was feeling tired from playing a long season but also because I needed to have a summer off after participating in competition with Brazil national team for 3 years in a row. I really needed that break and I feel well rested now. I kept watching Brazil's national team games at the FIBA Americas and can't wait to come back to play with my country in the next FIBA World Cup in Spain.
FIBA: So playing in the next 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is a goal for you this season?
Splitter: If I am not injured, I will play with the national team next summer. I am looking forward to participate in the World Cup with my teammates and try to help Brazil do a great performance in Spain. The group is tough as we are going to play against great teams such as France, Spain and Serbia, but we will try to qualify for the second round and fight for a medal. It would be special for me to play in Spain as I lived there for eight years. I love this country and it is always nice to play in front of the Spanish crowds.