So, our Spurs, huh? I think we can all agree it was something of a minor miracle we got out of that road trip at 3-1 considering how poorly we played. I'm not sure I can think of a four-game stretch of Spurs basketball that was so awf- HAHAHA JUST KIDDING.
Really though, it just goes to you show you the random nature of sports. As every stat-head will tell you, you play games on the knife's edge, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Who's to say that the Lakers game last night wasn't the basketball gods putting one on our ledger for payback for losing a couple close games to OKC in May? Or for that matter Tony's game-winner against that very club a couple weeks back?
As stupid as it sounds, the best way to guarantee success is to win by a bunch of points. We're not doing nearly enough things well at this point, despite the 7-1 record, to win games easily. We look more like a 5-3 team that got lucky than a real 7-1 team, so sadly I can't forecast a 74-8 record, I'm afraid.
The good news is, based on what we've seen, I feel there are more reasons to be optimistic than not.
Lets start with the positives...
1) Matt Bonner is no longer in the rotation.
Yes, this may seem like a flip-flop; guilty as charged. But after the last playoffs, I'd had it. So, I'm waving the white flag on the Red Rocket. I'm done. The SpursTalk fellas have won this one. The Spurs cannot win a title with Bonner in the playoff rotation, I'm convinced. And moreover, I think Pop is convinced as well.
Well, from everything I'm reading and seeing, that "I want some nasty" line is basically this season's mantra.
Let's face reality, the Spurs are never going to be the league's TV darlings, no matter how many points they score or purty Manu-passes they make. They can give good quotes, throw down the occasional furious dunk and make all kinds of plays that will make the basketball nerbs out there sit up and take notice, but ultimately we're always going to be seen as Team Snoozeville.
I'm fine with that, and you know Pop is fine with that.
But if you're gonna be unpopular anyway, you might as well be disliked the way the Bad Boy Pistons were disliked and kick some serious ass along the way. Give 'em a reason to not like you.
The Spurs teams that won titles, not just division titles or offensive efficiency titles or best regular season titles, but actual championships, they did it with defense. And they grinded and got dirty and made life absolute hell on people in the half court.
It's time these Spurs got back to earning their reputation as the team nobody wanted to play instead of being a soft, accommodating bunch of skilled shooters and passers, a la the Webber era Kings or Nash era Suns.
They need to get nasty.
Well Matt Bonner is the antithesis of nasty.
He's a pleasant fellow and a nice shooter, and statistically not all that bad of a post defender, to be honest. But he's also, relatively speaking, a wuss.
Now lets be clear: I'm sure Matt Bonner can kick my butt in a fight in like three seconds. He'd absolutely murder me. But in the context of other NBA players, especially in a playoff setting, Matt Bonner looks like a bloody, juicy steak thrown into a river of piranhas.
Tim Duncan may be the best player in the history of the Spurs, Tony Parker their best scorer and Manu Ginobili their most charismatic, but I've become convinced over the years that when other fans/analysts view the Spurs, they look at the team as a bunch of flopping Matt Bonners with annoying accents. He is the leading symptom of a team-wide disease: this perception of unathletic, soft, nice guy, long-range shooters as what we are.
Matt Bonner is a cancerous tumor that has to be forcibly removed for our own good. He was not a part of our rotation for the 2007 champions, and it was not a coincidence. He's meek, he's soft, he's afraid, and he's not going to magically snap out of it and become who we want him to be one day.
If you think I'm being too harsh and unfair to Bonner, I'm not. He's got nobody to blame for his troubles but himself. This is a guy who, before he was a Spur, famously got into a tussle with KG. There's no video, unfortunately, because David Stern's minions have erased it from existence, but it happened, we all know it.
I'm convinced that was the guy that intrigued the Spurs, the one who could shoot threes on one end of the floor and scrap with Kevin Garnett on the other. That Matt Bonner was doing whatever he could to stay in the league. This one has gotten all too comfortable with his place in the league and refuses to bang in there.
Bonner routinely gets pushed and tossed around literally by other players and figuratively by the refs. He just takes it, repeatedly, without fighting back. I'm sick and tired of it. Throw the occasional elbow. Give somebody a hard foul. Do SOMETHING to show you care and that you have pride.
Pop got tired of waiting, so no more Bonner. It's the right call.
2. Tim Duncan continues to kick all kinds of ass.
26.6 PER so far, which if he somehow maintains all year (spoiler alert: He won't) would be his best season since the last title, '06-07.
He's scoring very efficiently, driving hard and well to the basket and the banker looks smooth, but for me what stands out is the blocked shots. 2.6 per game so far, his highest figure in years. He's so agile around the basket right now it's hard to believe.
I've kind of hinted at this before, but you have to at least consider the possibility that he's on some PEDs, right? I mean, what other possible explanation (besides The Flying Spaghetti Monster being a huge Tim Duncan fan) is there for this? 36-year-old seven-footers simply aren't supposed to be able to move like this.
Personally, I'm fine with it, if it's true. There's no specific NBA rules against it, so go nuts. I'm not gonna tell another grown man what to do with his body, and there is basically nothing Duncan can do at this point that would tarnish his legacy even one percent in my eyes, so yeah go nuts, Tim.
And if you're 100 percent clean, then I apologize for the insinuation and you truly are some kind of wizard. Like a Manu Ginobili, but physically able to play basketball and stuff. (Sad face.)
3. Danny Leonard and Kawhi Green.
Sometimes it's hard to distinguish them, isn't it?
Not physically of course. I'm not blind.
But I think these guys are similar in that they're both young, they both rely fairly heavily on the three for their offense, and they're both players who, if I can remember correctly, haven't put a complete game together all season.
I'm not insulting them, however, because they haven't had a truly blah game between them either.
It's uncanny. When Green plays well offensively, he's a disaster on the other end, and vice versa. Same with Kawhi. Actually, it's like they'll keep trading every odd game. One will shoot well and the the other will cover for him with defense, and then it'll be the other guy's turn to shoot well and play lousy defense.
It's encouraging from the standpoint that both have the ability to A) score efficiently and B) check guys on defense. It's hard to find guys who can do both and on the cheap and here we have two. Most importantly for both: They're not afraid.
I've given up on Bonner, but not Green. I think his playoff slump was just unfortunate. He's still a huge part of this team going forward and clearly one of our most important players.
Eventually, Duncan will tail off. It will be up to Green and Leonard (and Splitter) to step up their games when it happens, because Parker will not be able to do it by himself and right now we have no idea what, if anything, we can count on from Manu.
4. The depth is serving us well.
One night it's Gary Neal (who looks much-improved defensively, by the way, and is becoming a more complete player year-by-year). The next it's Patty Mills. Boris Diaw steps up one game and Tiago Splitter some other one. No one needs to play well for the Spurs to win games but everyone is capable of playing well, which is huge.
Even guys like DeJuan Blair and Nando de Colo can provide spurts of energy when called upon.
Mainly though, I think the league's (and Miami's in particular since they're the team that matters) small-ball devolution plays into the Spurs' hands pretty well. They don't really need to force a fourth "big" in Bonner or Blair into the equation and can thrive with Leonard or Jackson as a small-ball four and Green at the three.
There are so few quality centers out there that Duncan, at 36, is still dominating. I repeat: DOMINATING. There's no other word to describe his play. He is markedly influencing games at both ends.
And because there are so few quality bigs in general, fellows such as Diaw and Splitter can get by against just about everyone as long as they're not playing too many minutes and don't get trapped in the wrong match-ups.
It may be a 14-man roster, but really it already looks like there's a set nine-man rotation for the playoffs, and I like it. The other guys will be mixed and matched to get though the long regular season, but for the most part I think the roles are already defined.
Splitter and Neal can both go down in flames, theoretically, to throw a wrench in the works, and obviously Manu's health is the great unknown, but it sure seems like there's a plan already in place for better or worse, even if it's one that will likely end in heartbreak once more for various reasons.
5. Everyone else in the West stinks.
Well, no, not really.
But for our purposes "everyone" basically means the Lakers and Thunder, and it's sure difficult to regard either as much of a bogeyman right now, isn't it?
Yes, they were close wins, games the Spurs were trailing by three points with under a minute to go in each case, but also games they pulled out despite playing at a C- level and less than full strength.
The Thunder game was a segababa without Ginobili, while the Lakers game was on the road, the fourth of a four-game road-trip (LA-Sac-Por-LA? Thanks, Mr. Schedule-maker), with Gino at 50 percent, maybe, and with Parker and others recovering from illness.
Both the Lakers and Spurs will get healthier and stronger, but at their best the Spurs are the better team, I think. Once the Lakers fortify their bench and the league intervenes with their zebras in May, it will likely be a different story, but for now, the Spurs are superior.
At least with the Lakers you can see the horribleness coming. I'm not sure what light there is at the end of the tunnel for the Thunder. I can't imagine them being a legit contender right now, no matter how good Durant is.
I'll be watching the next couple games with the Clips and the Nugs closely and am hopeful Ginobili will be closer to his regular self so we can have some kind of accurate gauge.
Maybe he'll miss just the Knicks game? ::crosses fingers::
Well, there's just one real negative, and it's Emanuel David Ginobili, he of the eternally broken... something.
This time it's his back, and those can be tricky things, especially for mid-30s fellows such as us. Right now Ginobili looks like a shell of himself. His jumper is broken. He can't score in any fashion except for the euro-step left, and he's loathe to attempt too many of those. He's a turnover machine. The passes aren't crisp, the decision-making is terrible, the movements are slow, sluggish and tentative and the dribble is basically unwatchable.
It's killing me to watch him like this and I'd almost rather he not play than be this limited.
I don't understand how Duncan, at 36, can be so agile and healthy while Manu, at 35, can be a guy who should be in a full-body cast. I'll never understand all the complex mysteries of the human body.
Also on the list of things I'll never understand: Everything.
Please get well soon, Manu. I can only pretend to be happy for Gary Neal for so long.