On February 11, the Spurs hit their low point.
They had just lost the night before, 109-100, to the hapless Detroit Pistons, who played hard for interim coach Jon Loyer in his first game in the head chair after Maurice Cheeks was fired. The game wasn't remotely as close as the final score indicated, as the Spurs were down 20 going into the final quarter. Such luminaries as Aron Baynes and Nando De Colo were in the starting lineup that night and Tony Parker was visibly struggling with a variety of aches and pains.
Kawhi Leonard was out with a broken hand. Manu Ginobili was out with a strained hamstring. Tiago Splitter was out with a sore calf. If all that wasn't bad enough, coach Gregg Popovich made the executive decision to shut down Parker for at least the duration of the team's "Rodeo Road Trip," (which was overlapping the league's All-Star break) but perhaps even longer after that.
The wipeout at Detroit left the Spurs with a 37-15 record, which obviously would've been the envy of teams across the league but nevertheless was a fair bit behind the top contenders. The Pacers won at home against Denver on the 10th to run their conference-best record to 40-11, while the next night the Heat won at Phoenix to reach 36-14 and the Thunder won at Portland, bringing their mark to an NBA-best 42-12.
The Spurs trailed the Thunder by 4 games, the Pacers by 3.5 --four in the loss column-- and were a game behind Miami in the loss column. They were closer to falling into third or fourth in the West than they were to the leaders.
Since then -- with Ginobili, Splitter, Leonard and, eventually, Parker all back into the fold -- the Spurs have gone 11-1, and now stand 48-16 overall.
More surprisingly, the other contenders have all slumped. Miami's gone 8-4 in that stretch and now they're three games behind the Spurs overall and two in the loss column (the Heat still have 20 games left compared to 18 for everyone else). The Pacers have gone 7-6, losing 4.5 games in the standings to the Spurs, and trail by a game. Finally, the Thunder have gone 5-5, dropping five games in the standings to the Spurs and are also a game back.
So now, of course, is the perfect time for them to sit Tim Duncan. Give him the dreaded sports coat and have him be a de-facto assistant coach for the next four games. Tell the media that his knee is bothering, whatever. The point is Duncan has to sit.
I'm guessing you're surprised I'm writing this, since I was the same guy who wrote a week ago that the team needs to gun for home court advantage at all cost. However, I don't think my position on this is the least bit hypocritical. It's the exact opposite, actually, which I'll explain in a minute.
The Spurs' strong kick in these past dozen games has been a true team effort, with contributions up and down the lineup, but it's unquestionable that the team's MVP has been Duncan. He almost singlehandedly carried the team when they were in the midst of their injury epidemic, averaging nearly 16 points and 11 rebounds, on 54 percent shooting in January and an even better 19 points and nearly 11 rebounds in February, on 52 percent shooting.
February though has been different. 12.0 points, 9.7 boards and 45 percent shooting. Once again the jumper looks broken, just as it was at the start of the season. Duncan had one fantastic game in that stretch, when it was needed most against Miami, but aside from that game he's averaging 9.8 points and shooting 38 percent in the other five. to my eye it looks like he's dragging a bit.
The Spurs are done with the RRT and have successfully negotiated a brutal TIGAFONI with Miami, at Chicago and Portland. Now the schedule breaks their way, with the next four opponents being the dregs of the Western Conference: the Lakers on Friday, Utah on Sunday, at the Lakers again next Wednesday and finally at Sacramento next Friday, the first of a BABA with at Golden State the next night.
You have to respect every opponent and it's true that the Lakers won at Portland a week ago and beat the Thunder at home on Sunday, but still if the Spurs can't beat those teams without Duncan they don't deserve the home court advantage to me anyway.
Look, I don't think the question of whether Pop will give Duncan a stretch of games off is "if" but rather "when." We both know it's coming, no matter how much Duncan will protest. Parker got his rest and has been better for it and the same thing for Ginobili and even Leonard. Fresh legs have made a difference for them all. Duncan needs a mini 10-day vacation as well to rest up and fix his jumper and it's better he does it now than in April, where the Spurs will have to play a bunch of tough games. If Pop sits him then, they're not going to be expected to win.
Sit Duncan for four games, bring him back on the 22nd at Golden State, and let's keep the good times rolling.