After starting out the Rodeo Road Trip with two-straight wins, San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich did what he does best; frustrate a national audience by resting the players that people around the country would tune in to watch. The Spurs played inspired basketball for three quarters before fading late against the Brooklyn Nets. The loss to the Nets was just the second loss to a team not considered to be one of the top contenders in the league.
The loss, however, matters very little to the team. Popovich has made it clear for years that the health of the squad in the playoffs matters more to him than regular season wins, momentum, television ratings, or the NBA's wishes. San Antonio rested Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Boris Diaw were also unavailavle and Kawhi Leonard, who is out with an injury, won't be available for the near future. That is five of San Antonio's top seven rotational players. The "stars" on the court were Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. Let that sink in for a moment.
The Spurs will continue their long road trip with a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats will enter the game with a 22-28 record, which is somehow good enough for eighth in the Eastern Conference. In their last game, Charlotte scored an impressive road-win by knocking off the Golden State Warriors, 91-75. Al Jefferson dominated that game, scoring 30 points to go along with 13 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. In that Tuesday night victory, Gerald Henderson scored 17 and Anthony Tolliver scored 11 off of the bench.
The Bobcats are not an explosive team, but the group does a good job of slowing down the game and making it a struggle for offenses. While Charlotte ranks 28th in the league in points per game, it ranks fifth in the league in points allowed. Charlotte also ranks in the 20's in rebounds and assists per game. The key to beating Charlotte is pretty simple: score points. The Bobcats are not built to get into a shootout where they need 100 points to win a game. The Spurs have improved on the offensive end of the floor, Thursday's game excluded, as the squad has become healthier over the last week or so. If Popovich unleashes the players he has at his disposal, San Antonio should be able to outscore the Bobcats on the road.
Jefferson, a player that San Antonio is well acquainted with from his time in Utah, has become Charlotte's go-to player in his first year with the Bobcats. He leads the team with 19.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in blocks and PER. Kemba Walker is next on the scoring list with 18.4 points per game, followed by Gerald Henderson at 15.1 and Ramon Sessions with 10.6. No one else on the roster averages in double-figures.
The trio of Jefferson, Walker, and Henderson has become effective when all three are in the lineup, but Charlotte is still missing a scoring threat from the wing. The Bobcats were hoping they found that player when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was drafted out of Kentucky, but he remains a very limited and raw option on the offensive side of the floor. He is, however, one of the team's better defenders and his attitude embodies the "lunch pail" attitude that the Bobcats play with when they are successful.
Matchup to Watch: The Bobcats go as Al Jefferson goes, so the Spurs should be in good shape if Duncan and Diaw are back in the rotation next to Splitter. Jefferson isn't a monster on the glass or on defense, but he is capable of having a big night on the offensive end if he gets some early looks and some easy put backs. Charlotte isn't a team built to run-and-gun from behind, so the key for the Spurs is to not let the Bobcats dictate the pace.
Game Prediction: Spurs by 5.
Line in Vegas: Spurs by 5.
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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