Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs begin their road trip - and breach the 50 game mark - by facing the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The San Antonio Spurs begin an annual tradition: the Rodeo Road Trip. This year, it consists of nine games all across the country, yet unlike the more grueling road trips earlier this season there is only one back to back. However, unlike the previous RRTs of the Spurs, they must start it without their captain and franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan, who is sitting out as he recovers from a sprained knee and ankle.
Nevertheless, the Spurs are getting into a groove. The Spurs have won 10 straight and 19 of their last 22; they've won as many games in the past 22 as they did in the first 27. And this is with sitting out 5 of those games in the current streak, and sitting out 4 - before his latest injury. This can be credited primarily to three players who have been playing very well as of late: Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter, and Kawhi Leonard.
First, about Tony Parker. Did you know that he's one of four players in the league this season to score 20 or more points a game while making more than half of his field goal attempts? If we extend the restriction to players who also shoot better than 80% from the free throw line, the only other player on the list is Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. Amazing that a poing guard 30 years old is having his best season; the only other guy I can think of who's done that is Steve Nash, and TP's much better defensively than the Canadian. He'll be tested against a very good on-ball defender in Ricky Rubio, but this is a matchup in the Wee Frenchman's favor, as the Spanish Unicorn has struggled to create his own offense (understandably because he's recovering from a torn ACL of his own).
Sexplots Sparkles Splitter is second only to Tyson Chandler among players who average at least 10 points a game in field goal percentage. While he can't make a shot beyond 3 feet, he nevertheless manages to score points in bunches because he's established a pick-and-roll rapport with Parker that previously he only had with Ginobili. The Brazilian big man (who should be a model, but let's face it, Brazilians are inherently pretty). Over the season his minutes allotment has increased; his 28.6 mark in January would be a career high. He'll have his hands full handling another elite low post big in Nikola Pekovic, he'll have to do it this time without Timmeh around.
Third is the Sophomore Sensation Kawhi Leonard. The Condor (as Dan McCarney calls him due to his length and athleticism) has been a crucial key in the Spurs' team defense; since his return from injury the Spurs were (or are) the best defense in the league. While his man defense still needs improvement, he nevertheless is an elite help defender; he's sixth among players who average at 24 minutes in steal percentage. He'll be facing a versatile forward in Andrei Kirilenko. In my opinion, players like AK-47 should be whom Leonard emulates, instead of volume scorers like Durant. That said Leonard is shooting .484/.396/.875 and has a TS% of 60.3 as a fifth option on offense. Nevertheless he seems to always hit big shots or make momentum-swinging plays, and that seems to be his role this season going forward.
Timberwolves perspective can be found here: Canis Hoopus
Game Prediction: Spurs win by 5, using their advantage in making shots beyond the arc while preventing another bad 3 point shooting team from torching them.
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.
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