The Spurs are the first team in the NBA to 30 wins.
On the surface, that doesn't mean much at all. After all, they'll need to procure about 50 more, by my reckoning, for this season to end the way we all want it to.
While their accomplishment will draw shrugs of indifference, or disdainful dismissals across the gamut of the national pundits out there who will be all too quick to point out that the Spurs haven't been anyone of note all season, we need to counterbalance that negativity with some other prescient facts to put their season in perspective.
In a league where all the contenders around them continue to stub their collective toes against the pretenders, the Spurs keep on managing to avoid the potential minefield in the treacherous Western Conference while continuing to dominate the lesser East as well. Seemingly every club has a key guy (or more) out, so injuries aren't an excuse for anyone, but the Spurs keep thriving even though their trainers contemplate installing a deli counter in their workplace to accommodate the ever-growing demand for their services.
Monday's game at New Orleans against a scrappy Pelicans squad saw the Spurs playing on a SEGABABA without Tiago Splitter (sprained right shoulder) and Danny Green (broken left index finger) and with Manu Ginobili in uniform but out of rhythm, playing his first game in a week after feeling tightness in his left hamstring at Memphis. The NOPEs, meanwhile, were without sharpshooting stretch four Ryan Anderson, starting point guard Jrue Holiday and swingman Tyreke Evans (though I'd argue that missing him is addition by subtraction).
For much of the evening the visitors had no weapons at their disposal save for random forays to the basket from Ginobili and Tony Parker and a whole mess of free throw attempts, while the Hornets had a handful of bigs who seemingly couldn't miss from the perimeter and a steady hand at the point from a backup whodat named Brian Roberts. The Spurs were considerably fortunate to be down just one at the break, considering that their only three of the night had come from Cory Joseph and that two of their usual bench sparkplugs in Boris Diaw and Patty Mills were total nonentities on the evening, while their ringleader, Ginobili, was forced to start to keep his hammy warm.
There were more fits and starts in the third quarter but the Spurs put together an 18-4 run overlapping the third and fourth quarters, mostly through the efforts of Parker, Jeff Ayres and Marco Belinelli (who basically hit a three-pointer from half-court to punctuate that sequence) to take a 86-77 lead and even that couldn't put away the Pelicans, who immediately countered with a 10-0 run of their own to take the lead. Worse still, the Spurs found themselves up just one with 6:02 to go and with Tim Duncan no longer available due to his annual foul-out. Diaw, who had expended less energy than most in attendance for the first three quarters, would have to hold the fort against wonderbrow Anthony Davis, who had 22 points already in the game.
Naturally, Davis wouldn't score again. In part thanks to Diaw's defense, he committed two turnovers down the stretch and of the three shots he attempted, two came in desperation in the final seconds, with the Pelicans already down six. Once again, the Spurs slammed the door on a lesser team when they had to.
It's true enough that the Spurs are 0-6 vs. the Thunder, Rockets, Blazers and Pacers, but what's also true is that they're 18-0 against seeds 6-15 in the West. That's no small feat in a conference where anybody can give you a game on a given night, even Wednesday's opponent, Utah. Then throw in all the Eastern non-contenders (basically everyone but Miami and Indiana) and the Spurs record stretches out to 29-1. If it was so easy to beat the scrubs that consistently, the other contenders would all have better records than the Spurs. Add to that the team's 24-0 record when leading after three quarters and their 14-1 mark when playing without one or more of their top six guys, and what the Spurs are doing continues to be more and more impressive.
The saying goes that a layup counts the same as a dunk on the scoreboard. Well, a win over the Pelicans counts the same as one over the Thunder in the record. The Spurs continue piling up the W's, and the name of the game is who can get the most of them throughout 82 games to seize home court advantage. I don't take any game for granted, not when teams like the Jazz are beating Oklahoma City one night and the shorthanded Hawks are upsetting the Pacers the next. You shouldn't either.
Standard Parker Quote:
"I was just trying to be aggressive. I was in attack mode. When I saw TD go out, I knew I was going to be aggressive and try to create for myself or for my teammates.
(still waiting for Parker to tell a reporter, just once, that his plan for a game was to be tentative and that he was in retreat mode.)
By The Numbers:
15,552: The attendance at the stylishly-named New Orleans Arena.
1/20/10: The last time that Duncan fouled out of a regular season game, against the Jazz.
16: How many times Duncan has fouled out in his 17-year career, less than once per season on average (then again, Wilt Chamberlain never fouled out.)
0, 0, 0, 1: Points, field goal attempts, rebounds and assists in his first 16 minutes of "action," for Diaw against the NOPEs. He did manage to pull down a couple of boards after checking in for Duncan down the stretch.
1: First start of the season for Ginobili, partly due to his injury circumstances (Pop didn't want him to get stiff after warm-ups) and partly due to the injury circumstances of others (namely Danny Green).
24:37: Incident-free minutes of playing time for Ginobili, coming off his hamstring-tightness scare. He drove to the basket for three lay-ups and had a couple of other hard drives as well.
20: How many more field goal attempts attempted by the Pelicans (87) than the Spurs (67).
3: How many more baskets the Pelicans (38) made than the Spurs (35) with those 20 extra attempts.
31: Free throw attempts for the Spurs, which isn't too shabby for the second-to-least frequent foul shooting bunch in the league.
1: How many threes the Spurs made (on just six attempts) through three quarters.
4: How many threes they hit (in six attempts) in the fourth quarter.
30: By hook or by crook, the fellas are the first NBA team to 30 wins.
Sequence of the Game: They weren't game-turning plays in the long run, but to me the most important sequence came between the 7:00-7:30 mark of the second quarter where Ginobili drove recklessly toward the rim on consecutive possessions, got hacked both times and was none the worse for wear afterward. I was nervous as hell going into this game considering his year-long struggle last season to shake off a persistent hamstring injury, but thankfully Ginobili seemed to come out of it okay. His rhythm wasn't there on his shot or as a passer, and he looked decidedly stiff at times defensively, but he seemed to loosen up as the game went along and we'll see what he looks like on Wednesday. I'd like to see him throw in a couple of threes against Utah ahead of that clash with the Blazers on Friday.
Tweets of the Night:
The Spurs struggling to score with a lineup of Mills/Joseph/Belinelli/Diaw/Baynes? YOU DON’T SAY— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 14, 2014
Not the best night for clever Spurs tweets.
Rivers isn't completely abhorrent to watch any more. Huge improvement.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 14, 2014
Not sure this is the best way to score an exclusive with the Clippers head coach. (Oh, is that a different Rivers?)
Is this the progression to the mean game for the Spurs FT chances? 22 already.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 14, 2014
@poundingtherock Wonder how many children that thing has eaten tonight. Over/under is 10.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 14, 2014
That's not a nice thing to say about Anthony Davis.
Then Bill Land suffered what might have been an aneurysm after that Belinelli jumper.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 14, 2014
Tweets like this won't seem so witty when it actually happens.
Checking NBA rule book to determine if getting swatted by Matt Bonner results in a player being demoted to the D-League.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) January 14, 2014
Tim Duncan, just throwing it at the rim at this point— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 14, 2014
Pretty much describes every DeAndre Jordan free throw attempt.
The full Manu. Great block on one end, sweet dime to Duncan for three-point play on the other. Ridiculous TO coming in three, two, one...— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 14, 2014
Nothing clever about this, but using it to point out that the scorekeeper, in his/her infinite wisdom, credited the assist to Parker on the play. Why does the league never review and change scorekeeper errors? I can't be the only anal person about these things.
Duncan's 6th foul with 6:02 left in NOLA; Diaw takes floor, still all 0s for game— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) January 14, 2014
Dont' assists, blocks and turnovers count any more?
Love the utterly contrasting body types of Diaw vs. Davis. A bowl of gravy vs. pretzel sticks.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) January 14, 2014
And people think "land walrus" is mean.
@DewNO if you believe his facial expressions, he’s only ever committed 16 fouls period.— Shep McAllister (@shepmcallister) January 14, 2014
The "Tim Duncan never thinks he commits a foul" joke never gets old. Does it? DOES IT?
Random Observation: I have absolutely nothing against Monty Williams and wish him all the luck in the world when he's not facing the Spurs, but doesn't it seem like he's kind of a crummy coach? You see him, Jacque Vaughn down in Orlando and Mike Brown over at Cleveland and it's possible that Mike Budenholzer is the only one from the Pop coaching tree who is remotely competent. I don't know why Williams decided to go small the whole fourth quarter after playing big for most of the first three and getting good results against a Spurs team that was missing Duncan and had Diaw plainly not into it. Jason Smith was playing well, but Williams sat him for the final 16 minutes and his team's execution down the stretch left a lot to be desired. I don't think Williams is long for that job, unfortunately.
Your Three Stars:
3) Kawhi Leonard (35 pts): Had a number of timely hustle plays throughout the game, shut down Gordon sufficiently enough and hit a huuuuuge three late.
2) Tim Duncan (71 pts): Had his hands full with Davis and the other Pelicans bigs -- with Splitter out literally and Diaw out figuratively -- and more than held his own, even on a SEGABABA where his jumper was flat. He fouled out with six minutes to go, but the Spurs wouldn't have been in the game without his contributions in the 26:06 he did play.
1) Tony Parker (66 pts): Back-to-back gold medals for the Frenchman on both ends of a BABA, which is hugely impressive, just from a conditioning standpoint, let alone the basketball. Parker's jumper isn't as consistent as it was during his peak last season, but he is back to All-Star level play after a sub-par December and he kept the Spurs afloat during a first quarter where no one else got off the bus at New Orleans and had a couple of buckets at the end to lead the team while Duncan had fouled out.
Next Up: Vs. Utah Jazz (13-26), Wednesday, Jan. 15: While the Jazz still have the worst record in the Western Conference, they're in the midst of their hottest stretch of the season, having won six of their past ten, including triumphs over Oklahoma City and Monday night's blowout 118-103 win over a Nuggets squad that had won five straight coming into the game. Alec Burks had a career-high 34 points to pace the Jazz, while rookie point guard Trey Burke had 18 points and eight dimes and Derrick Favors had 19 points and 15 boards. I distinctly remember panning Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin for benching bigman Enes Kanter and starting journeyman forward Marvin Williams in his stead, and I have to eat crow on that one and sincerely apologize to Corbin, as Utah have been far more competitive since going to that small-ball lineup. I'm not sure if the Jazz will have Gordon Hayward, who strained his hip flexor in the win over the Thunder and has missed the past two games, but regardless of whether he plays or not, the Spurs can't afford to look past these guys to Friday's game against Portland with the way they're playing at the moment. Parker in particular better take Burke seriously.