At 34-21, the San Antonio Spurs aren't exactly reaching the high championship expectations NBA fans have set for the team.

The Spurs are in seventh place in the vigorous Western Conference. To make things even more difficult, the Spurs play in the strongest division in the National Basketball Association, the Southwest. The Southwest division features opponents such as the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans. If the Spurs played in the Eastern Conference, they would be just one game out of third place in the standings.

However, they don't.

With Tim Duncan having so much on his plate already, the Spurs need their two South American-born stars, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili, to step it up. Ginobili has not been shooting the ball well at all this season compared to previous years. The 37-year-old Argentinian is shooting just 42.4 percent from the field this season, the second lowest of his 13-year career.

Ginobili is arguably the greatest international player in NBA history, having won four championships and a Sixth Man of the Year Award. Ginobili has also been known to fill in for Tony Parker as the team's point guard when Parker is either injured or taking a break. Even though Ginobili's shooting has been down this season, he still leads the Spurs in assists.

There's no doubt Ginobili can still pass, but San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich needs him to make the big shots that he's capable of. Ginobili was fantastic in the NBA playoffs last season, making numerous clutch shots against the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the postseason.

Another very valuable South American player on the Spurs who has been struggling this season is Tiago Splitter. Popovich has described Splitter as a "blue collar guy, great defender and hard worker." Last season, Splitter became the first-ever Brazilian-born player to win a championship in NBA history.

Unfortunately, this season has been halted with minor injuries and career-lows for the Brazilian big man. Splitter is averaging just 4.6 rebounds per game this year, the lowest since his rookie season. With Splitter missing so much time because of injuries, future Hall of Fame Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw have had to increase their playing time. Splitter was inactive for 20 of the first 21 games of the season.

Even with Splitter only playing 19 minutes per game this season, the Spurs still rank No. 8 overall in team defense. But again, this is the Western Conference we're talking about. Splitter has been on the court far more often over the last month and half than he was at the beginning of the season, and he is showing great signs of improvements after his calf injury.

Tony Parker and Duncan create the engine that make the Spurs run, but Splitter and Ginobili keep that Spurs locomotive on the track to success.

Last year, San Antonio was the No. 1 seed in the West with a 62-20 record, a 75.6 win percentage. This season the Spurs are winning 61.8 percent of their games, giving them a 34-21 record. Odds are the Spurs will finish in the five to eight range in the seedings. The Spurs won't have home court advantage like they've had three of the last four years in the playoffs, but experience will have to triumph that.

San Antonio won't go out easily. They know as defending champions that every team in the league is aiming for them. Going forward, the Spurs will need a lot of help from their South American duo if they will repeat as champions.

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