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Spurs end preseason with a 96-87 loss against the Rockets

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The Spurs will try to leave behind a preseason period that was short on positives and focus on winning the games that matter starting next week

Scott Halleran

The preseason is finally over! It's funny how a couple of weeks ago we were all excited to watch Spurs basketball again and how, as the meaningless games went by, that excitement transformed into a mixture of anxiety and disdain. But in a few days the games will start to mean something and even though I'm not panicking over preseason losses, I would be lying if I said I wouldn't love for San Antonio to have a couple more weeks to get ready, even if it meant watching Isaiah Canaan look like Stephen Curry.

Alas, the new season tips off this Tuesday. Let's hope the Spurs are in better shape than they let on.

The Game

Even with Kevin McHale resting Dwight Howard, Pop seemed determined to treat this one like a regular season game early on, at least in terms of rotations. Belinelli and Bonner started for Leonard and Splitter but the Spurs played their traditional bench unit, with Baynes as the fourth big and Marco pulling double duty. Unfortunately the familiar lineups didn't result in fewer sloppy plays. The Spurs turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and the Rockets capitalized on the mistakes to the tune of 21 points.

Offensively, San Antonio started out the game taking advantage of James Harden's defense and got Danny Green going. Marco Belinelli was also moving well without the ball and provided complementary scoring. But Manu Ginobili's slump continued, Tim Duncan kept turning the ball over and Tony Parker couldn't work his magic like in other games. On the other end, the Spurs' heavy use of zone defense wasn't particularly effective and the three ball allowed the Rockets to start building a lead.

Houston seemed in control but the scoreboard didn't truly reflect it, as the Spurs went on a mini run to start the second quarter to tie it at 27 with 9:32 to go. But the levies broke when the Rockets decided to go small with two points guards (Canaan and Beverley), two wings (Ariza and Papanikolaou) and Terrence Jones at center. The Spurs missed Leonard dearly during that stretch, as their efforts to contain that lineup using Bonner, Daye and even JaMychal Green at power forward failed miserably. Houston went on a 22-5 run to close the half and go into the break up 17, 49-32.

The Spurs were the better team in the second half and outscored the Rockets by eight. But they had to crawl their way back into the game and you don't want to be in that position against the Rockets. While the Spurs methodically executed to get points on the boards, Houston simply gave the ball to its superstar, who carried them. Harden finished the third with 20 points on ten shots and held off the first Spurs' charge on his own.

It seemed like that gap the Rockets had created in the first half was going to determine the winner. But San Antonio kept coming, showing a sense of urgency not normally seen in the preseason. The offense run through Duncan for long stretches on the second half and Tim controlled the boards as well. With Harden out for the whole final frame the Rockets' offense dried up and the Spurs chipped away. Suddenly, it was a game.

But after they brought the team close with their playmaking, Pop decided to finally rest his stars, subbing Parker and Ginobili out with around three minutes to go. The bench kept firing away and even cut the deficit to two, but they couldn't close it out. Some late Isiaah Canaan heroics prevented the comeback from being completed and the Spurs finished preseason with a 2-5 record.

Observations

  • Before getting into the game, a roster update. The Spurs signed wings Fuquan Edwin and Robert Vaden. In all likelihood, they've done it to then waive them and have them allocated to the Austin Spurs, like they did last season with Josh Howard. So don't read too much into it.

  • Manu Ginobili finished the preseason 8-41 from the field and 2-23 from downtown. Is it time to panic? It's possible. With Mills out, the second unit is going to need Manu's scoring and he clearly can't buy a bucket right now. But I came away from this game with some optimism despite the 2-11 from the field. What I look for to see if Manu is focused and on his game is his defense. When he ball-watches and gets beat easily, he's not there, mentally. Tonight he competed on that end and was disruptive without gambling too much. If he's mentally strong and doesn't let his frustration get the better of him, the shot will come back. I hope.

  • Speaking of slumps, Marco Belinelli broke out of his. Marco scored 19 points on only nine shots and hit three of his five three pointers. Belinelli and Danny Green (nine first half points) kept the Spurs in it early and made the comeback attempt possible.

  • Aron Baynes looked good out there as the fourth big, especially in the first half. Bangers is beginning to understand the importance of positioning on defense. In one play, he just stood there, being huge and close to the basket and got a charge called against Joey Dorsey, who just tried to go through him. He's not a finished product yet, as exemplified by a play that got him yanked from the game. Harden was posting up Joseph, who was sending him baseline into help. But Baynes failed to rotate, resulting in an easy basket. Hopefully those type of mistakes will become anomalies as he continues to improve.

  • Speaking of Baynes, I'm ambivalent about his choice of facial hair. In case you missed it, here it is: 
    Baynes beard
    I'm not a fan at this point. But maybe it looks better when it's fully grown? Let me know what you think.      

  • Tony Parker didn't score like in past games but finished with ten assists and just two turnovers. Healthy Tony always makes positive contributions to the cause. The same applies to Duncan, who committed three turnover in the first half before owning the paint in the second to finish with a double-double.

  • Boris Diaw had a quietly efficient night, with four points, four rebounds and two assists in only 17 minutes. It's obvious Pop is bringing him along slowly, since he was the best option to counter the Rockets' small ball lineup but didn't leave the bench.

  • "He's so good, he's kind of Ray Allen-like. Ray Allen is the leading three-point shooter in the history of the league.  Troy Daniels is that good." - Clyde Drexler, king of hyperbolic praise.

  • Jason Terry is the worst. Just...the worst.

  • The Rockets are going to be a handful. Ariza has looked amazing in preseason play and his defense is a gigantic upgrade over Parsons'. Their lack of proven depth is a huge problem. But if they can get contributions from guys like Canaan, Ish Smith, Daniels, Francisco Garcia and Motiejunas, they are a genuine threat to any team in the West.

The preseason is finally over. The Spurs will probably cut JaMychal Green next and will go into next season with the 14 guys that were on the playoffs roster last year plus Kyle Anderson. Their first game, as well as the ring ceremony, will be against the Mavs on Tuesday at the AT&T Center.

For the opponent's perspective, visit The Dream Shake