San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix SunsAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
October 13, 2013, 1:30 PM Spurs Time
RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
Dogs of all ages can stand to learn a few new tricks, and for a canine as long in the tooth as the Spurs, the preseason offers a chance to add a couple of new numbers to the routine. How long will it take to fit Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres into the rotation? And what will the Spurs do with the contract of Cory Joseph, as the team has until Halloween to decide whether to extend the Texas Longhorn for a fourth year? These things matter, even in October, and especially for a coach and franchise so committed to working out every detail.
The Spurs went through the motions in the opening preseason game against CSKA Moscow, winning in an overtime neither team wanted any part of. Sunday at 1:30 p.m., the Spurs host the Phoenix Suns (2-0 in the preseason) in San Antonio’s first look at an NBA opponent this preseason.
This Suns team hardly resembles the one that the Spurs beat two out of three times in 2012-13. Luis Scola, Phoenix’s leading rebounder in those three matchups, is gone. So are Jared Dudley and Jermaine O’Neal. Like last year, Phoenix will go as Goran Dragic goes but this season he’ll have more firepower alongside him. The Suns have added Eric Bledsoe to the backcourt, and he got the start at point guard on Wednesday, putting up a team-high nine assists in a victory over the Portland Trailblazers. That shows how much first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek is experimenting with the lineup, as Marcus Morris started at the 3 in front of P.J. Tucker, who will likely be starting once the games matter.
The biggest challenge for San Antonio is keeping up with point guard Goran Dragic, who’s a tough cover for the Spurs and averaged 14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals against them last season, netting a +11 in the Suns’ lone win. The team that controls pace, like most games the Spurs are involved in, will have the advantage. Expect the Suns to push the ball up and down the floor, while relying on penetration in their halfcourt sets. Phoenix has an athletic advantage over San Antonio -- with Dragic, Bledsoe, Tucker and either Morris brother on the floor -- but they aren’t a threat to hurt teams from behind the arc. The Suns were 28th in the league in three-point field goal percentage last year and are now without Dudley, who was one of their best long-range shooters.
Watch for Pop to use this game to show his team the pace he wants them to play. The starters won’t see many minutes, and a lot of different rotations will be used by both sides. The preseason is a chemistry experiment and these two teams need the preseason for very different reasons. San Antonio is polishing their instruments, while the Suns are still figuring out what their tool-set includes.
Expect the Suns to push the ball and attack the rim, taking advantage of their younger legs and athleticism. But just as they did against the Grizzlies in last year’s Western Conference Finals, San Antonio should be able to sag off perimeter players, and focus on keeping Phoenix out of the lane while forcing them to take mid-range jump shots. This conflict should determine the winner of the game. If Phoenix is able to get to the basket for clean looks and pick up easy points in transition, then the Spurs are in for a long night. But if the Spurs defense can exert its will and keep the visitors out of the lane, then the Suns could struggle to score.
San Antonio averaged 103 points a game against the Suns last year, shooting 48 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from behind the arc. Tony Parker missed the second game between the teams, but played well in the other two games, scoring 31 in the final meeting. The Spurs offense puts stress on even league’s most coordinated defenses, but for a Phoenix squad still figuring out how to work together, it’s hard to see the good guys having a hard time scoring. The only questions are how long Pop plays the starters, and how large the lead is when he finally sits them.
But for Popovich and the Spurs, this game is about more than the final score - it’s about answering the questions still simmering from training camp. Who will play behind Kawhi at the 3? Who will get most of the minutes backing up Tony Parker? What will the big man rotation look like? These are the storylines that could continue to develop deep into the season.
The dog days of summer have come and gone, and after a bitter defeat in the Finals, the Spurs are hoping for a little hair of the dog, while the young Suns hope to stay out of the doghouse. In this case of Phoenix’s young pups against San Antonio’s old mutts, don’t be surprised to see the elder dogs have their day.
Suns perspective can be found here: Bright Side Of The Sun
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.
Get your San Antonio Spurs tickets here!