These are interesting days to be a Spurs fan, people. What with the compressed season, dealing with injuries like just about every other NBA squad, a youth movement, and various members of the Big Three giving us stunning reprises of their glorious prime selves, this is by no means boring. The season has been full of surprises so far, which is perhaps what we should have expected for the season that almost wasn't. Tonight the boys in black roll into Miami, and face a dangerous Heat team that is the odds on favorite to win it all this season, only right now they are not exactly dominating the competition. The Heat have an injury bug themselves, and have (Surprise!) lost three straight games. What gives?
Well I am not going to waste tears on the Heat. Two of those recent losses went to overtime, and the third was at altitude in Denver. They have been resting for three days now, have probably the most dominant single player in the league, and are surely starving for a beat-down victory over an opponent that has yet to win on the road this season. The Spurs will have their hands full tonight.
The Heat are right up there with the Spurs in terms of quality offense, with both teams near the top of the league in points and assists. Miami is averaging six more points per game than the Spurs. On the defensive end, San Antonio is giving up about 95 points per game, 16th place in the league. Miami is in 26th place in the same category, with opponents scoring 99 points per contest. Both the 9-4 Spurs and the 8-4 Heat are enjoying a margin of victory of over five points a contest. But if you look at opponents' shooting percentage, one of Pop's favorite measuring sticks, the Heat are averaging a very good 42.6%, while the Spurs are still trying to climb out of the cellar with an improving but still unimpressive 45.7%.
Personnel wise, of course the Heat have three top notch players in Lebron, Wade and Bosh. Guys like Haslem and Chalmers are making steady contributions, as are newcomers like point guard Norris Cole and veteran swing man Shane Battier. The big question is the health of Dwyane Wade, who is dealing with several leg injuries. Will he play? If so, will he be effective? (As of this writing, it looks like he will sit, with Jones or Battier starting instead.)
Miami likes to score in the painted area, and the Spurs' interior defense will need to be solid to come away with a win, whether Wade is healthy or not. LeBron James is averaging nearly thirty points a game, and an incredible 58% from the field, ten points above his career average. Expect Pop to throw the kitchen sink at Lebron to try to make him work for every shot, with heavy doses of Kawhi, some Jefferson, maybe some Blair. But Bosh is another tough threat in the paint, good for twenty points on any given night. If the Heat is without Wade, that will make them a little easier to handle, but they are still a handful.
Our boys are having their own injury issues, as I'm sure you know. LWM is turning into Life Without A Lot of Guys. Our best player out for another month at least, our backup point and bench sparkplug out for perhaps as long, and now even our would-be backup backup point has a contusion. It's spreading!
Fortunately, we have a backup for our backup backup. Cory Joseph may not be ready, but he is playing, and so far I think he is handling things pretty darn well. We need to give Parker some rest here and there, and although Joseph does not bring the scoring threat of the Wee Frenchman, he does bring some pestering defense and a good eye for the open man. Joseph is just one of our intriguing newer guys that I am having a lot of fun watching this season, and hope to see more of tonight. I am really starting to appreciate all the little things that Danny Green is doing on the court. Whatever basketball IQ is, Green has it in spades. And I am smitten with Kawhi Leonard. The kid can defend like nobody's business, and he is a rebounding fiend, and is scoring in double figures despite shooting being his weak suit. And we are only thirteen games in. How good are these guys going to be once they figure out what they are doing?
My happiness does not stop with appreciating the young pups. I am also really excited about the growing contributions of three guys that were much maligned last season: Tiago, Blair, and Jefferson. Blair has been a solid guy this season, with what I think is an improved defensive effort, chipping in points and passing the ball well on offense, and just a cooler head. For Jefferson, the Jamnesty continues. His points are a little down the last couple of games, but he is shooting with confidence, and in big moments. And Tiago Splitter is playing great defense, while finally showing some lovely offense. The last few games we have seen some incredible post moves and sweet finishes from Sparkles, and he is even making free throws. The surprises just keep coming!
Oh, and Tony and Tim. Ho hum.
Gary, Manu, and TJ, get well soon. Listen to your doctors. We need you back, but right now your teammates are keeping things together. Is it too much to ask for the Spurs to finally get a road win in Miami tonight? I don't know. If we shoot from the three point line a bit better than the other night in San Antonio, if Parker can do to Miami what Ty Lawson did to them a few nights ago, if Leonard can make life miserable for Lebron James, and if Duncan can give us another vintage performance? I wouldn't be surprised.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.