Going into last night's game against the visiting New Orleans Hornets, the San Antonio Spurs had played 27 total games, 17 of those out on the road. With the annual Rodeo Road Trip usually sending the vet team on 8-9 game business vacations, the Spurs are obviously no stranger to playing road warriors. Regardless, these long trips and action-packed weeks wear on even the most prepared and seasoned of teams. Since November 21st, the Spurs have tallied 17 games with last night's being only the fifth played inside the friendly confines of the AT&T Center.
In that same stretch, the Spurs played five back-to-back sets with nine of those ten games being on the road. San Antonio also played four games in five nights inside the six game East coast road trip, which was played inside only nine days and concluded with the now infamous Miami Heat game. Despite the hectic schedule, the only loss on the East coast trip was at Miami with a thin JV Spurs squad.
Generally road games and long trips are the worry in the back half of an 82-game season but the wear and tear is felt by everyone regardless of their place within the season. Bumps and bruises turn into sprains and strains, sleep becomes a premium, and it gets harder to refill the tank between action. Already short-handed Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson, San Antonio was fortunate to make it through the four-plus weeks with only a handful of minor injuries; Patty Mills and DeJuan Blair both sprained an ankle, Danny Green dealt with muscle tightness, and Ginobili suffered a minor leg contusion.
A silver lining in all of this action (and injuries) is the amount of minutes distributed throughout the roster. Aside from the always beneficial experience for the less-used talent, the Spurs coaching staff got a solid study on the season outlook of their bench - strengths, weaknesses, what works, and won't likely ever work. If a trade of any bench talent occurs later this season, it's a good chance that much of what led to that decision was provided during the tough days of November and December.
Another positive from the early road-heavy schedule is that it will eventually all even out. In the 24 games after the Rodeo Road trip, the Spurs will only play 7 on the road (with only 2 in the entire month of March). In that span, from February 17th to April 17th, the Spurs will also only play three sets of back-to-backs. Health pending, the final months of the schedule provides a perfect opportunity for San Antonio to build momentum and improve their conference seeding heading into the playoffs.
Shoot Around Notes
- Got to watch Nando De Colo in pregame for the first time. He works with Chip Engelland which means only good things.
- De Colo spent a good amount of time working on coming off screens and catch-and-drive. He also spent some time practicing straight up 3-point shots, no defenders or set plays.
- Coach Engelland spent a good amount of time talking with Nando after the workout and even made the French guard go back and shoot a few more 3-pointers.
- Kawhi Leonard moved around very smoothly and shot the ball well. Despite the stone face, I bet he was extremely eager to get back on the court.
- DeJuan Blair looked very solid from mid-range, he even made more baskets from 10+ feet out than he did inside. I have mixed feelings on this.
- I haven't been able to attend many games so far this season but it feels like DeJuan's pregame workout has more purpose/structure.
- Danny Green was on fire from deep. Green was dropping the shots despite the training staff completely blocking his vision at time. They then tried to distract him by being silly and that seemed to work.
- Green also spent some time focusing on driving out of the corner. His ball fakes are smooth, subtle, and work perfectly with his body motion.
Standard Pop Pre-Game Quote
You guys are full of crap.
-Pop responding to my question about the coaching qualities that Hornets head coach Monty Williams has. I followed after a series of strange Monty questions from a New Orleans beat writer. Bad timing on my part.
San Antonio played tight defense in the first half, pushing the ball off defensive stops and controlling the action inside the paint. The Spurs outscored the Hornets 30-18 inside - only 15 of the Spurs 37 first half shot attempts were outside the paint.
"We weren't playing any transition defense," said Hornets rookie Anthony Davis. "That's where their points came from in the first half. We allowed Tony Parker to get in our lane. He would find guys." San Antonio scored 18 points out on the break and maintained decent control of the ball throughout the first half (6 TO).
Coming out in the third quarter, Monty Williams had his players attacking hard on defense - sending double teams, trapping the ball, and stifling the flow of the Spurs offense. The Spurs still managed to get the ball inside a few times but was unable to push the action as they did earlier in the game. New Orleans only allowed 2 fast break points in the third quarter and prevented San Antonio from capitalizing on the only turnovers in the quarter.
"Our guys regrouped as we always do and played with a sense of urgency in the second half," said head coach Monty Williams. Off their third quarter defense, the Hornets managed to develop a rhythm on offense. New Orleans hit 5 of their first 8 shots in the 4th but was equally giving up the same amount of production on the other end of the floor. Coming out of an officials timeout, Monty Williams reinforced the same double-teaming pressure that off-balanced San Antonio in the third.
The Hornets held the Spurs 0-3 FG and forced a turnover over a three-minute stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter, cutting a dozen point lead down to four with over 5:30 remaining in the game. Fortunately for the Spurs, Tony Parker took matters into his own hands and immediately responded with a basket which was soon followed by a crafty Nando De Colo jumper (and missed free throw attempt). Despite the Hornets scoring on the other end, Parker made sure the Spurs kept pace on theirs by directly contributing on 9 of the Spurs last 11 points.
After the game, head coach Gregg Popovich praised Parker's ability to bail the Spurs out of tough situations. "Parker] really feels the responsibility down the stretch in games to get something done," said Coach Popovich. "If we are a little bit flat or not making shots, he has stepped up and been very confident in those situations."
My Game Boss
Tony Parker scored 8 of his game-high 25 points in the 4th quarter, helping the Spurs keep pace with a 33 point 4th quarter surge by the New Orleans Hornets.
Please don't drive the ball anymore. Just catch-and-shoot or pass if it isn't there.
This Thing Was Over When...
Roger Mason, Jr. missed a 3PT shot with 48 seconds remaining in the game. The basket would have cut the Spurs lead in half but Tiago Splitter rebounded the ball thus ending any real chance of a Hornets comeback.
What Were You Thinking...
...when you attempted to dribble the ball behind your back, Gary Neal? You were in the paint with two defenders closing in on you. Your failed attempt at a highlight clip ended with a bounce pass straight into the arms of a defender. Bravo.
By the Numbers
- 15 - Double-doubles for Tim Duncan this season.
- 25.5 - Assists per game, league high and the highest since the 1995-96 Spurs team (24.9).
- 12 - Number of different starters this season for San Antonio.
- 40 - Number of seconds it took Kawhi Leonard to score after missing 18 games due to injury.
- 5 - Spurs players averaging 10 or more points this season.
- 12 - Spurs turnovers against New Orleans. San Antonio ranks near the bottom of league in TO (15.4).
- 78.4 - Team free throw percentage for the season. Currently top-10 in the league.
- 17.6 - Combined 3PT% of both teams (6-34 3PT).
- 41.5 - Manu Ginobili's current FG% for the season (the worst of his career).
Odds & Ends
- Austin Rivers looks like he chest passing the ball every time he shoots. Just ugly. Andrew McNeill from 48 Minutes of Hell was even more annoyed than I was by Rivers' overall shooting mechanics.
- Despite minimal minutes, Tiago Splitter is looking great in the starting lineup. His offensive awareness is under-appreciated.
- Now if the Spurs could finally find a way to resolve the DeJuan Blair situation...
- Nando De Colo's nerves look to have settled down. He's no longer passing on easy layups and flinging the ball everywhere. Expect his minutes to continue to rise.
- Especially with Gary Neal doing crap like dribbling the ball behind is back in the middle of two defenders.
- Tim Duncan is only 36 rebounds away from tying Bob Petit for 16th in career rebounding and only 4 away from tying Tree Rollins for 8th in career blocks.
Bird is the Word
@NotBillWalton: BREAKING: David Stern has just fined the Mayans $250,000 for failing to show up to the biggest event of the year.
@danmccarneysaen: A little late, but the name of tonight's Pizza Hut ball kid is Prometheus Carter. #swagallday
@JMcDonald_SAEN: I assume because Twitter is recommending I follow John Stamos, it means I've reached the end of the Internet.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to...
...re-establish offensive dominance. Over the last six games, the Spurs have averaged only 97.8 PPG while shooting a pedestrian 45.9 FG% (breaking 50% only twice). The Dallas Mavericks are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, giving up 101 PPG and with a bulk of that coming from beyond the arc. The Spurs have a string of weak opponents coming into town so handing Cuban and his Pretty Ponies a beat down would be a nice start.
For more rambling and Spurs talk, follow Aaron Preine at @DukeOfBexar on Twitter.