Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn't in a very expansive mood tonight prior to the team's SEGABABA against a struggling Nets outfit that barely squeaked past the star-less Thunder at Oklahoma City last night. Popovich seems at his grumpiest in circumstances where an easy blowout is in the offing because those games bring about nothing but negative outcomes to a pragmatic mind. If you win easily, as expected, it doesn't mean anything and your team doesn't get better and may in fact be on the path to getting worse, as lazy habits and a sense of overconfidence set in. If you struggle to win, it means you didn't show up with the appropriate fear and didn't take the opponent seriously. And if you lose, that's the ultimate negative, aside from injuries, of course.
Speaking of injuries and other maladies, the Spurs are hardly lacking in them. Tiago Splitter, who's played all of 11 minutes on the season, is still out with a right calf problem and Pop had no explanation for the injury, saying "We're still trying to figure out why (it) is bothering him."
Popovich also said that Patty Mills (right shoulder surgery), Cory Joseph (sprained left ankle) and Matt Bonner (stomach virus) will miss tonight's game and that Marco Belinelli, who played 10 minutes last night after missing eight games with a strained right groin, would be a game-time decision.
With Mills and Joseph both out, Tony Parker is the only traditional point guard on the roster, though Manu Ginobili has been the unofficial backup point guard for years, with the offense going through him whenever Parker sits. Parker's understudies basically just bring the ball up and then hand it off to the Argentine, who then directs them elsewhere on the court to be ready for spot up jumpers.
"It'll be a committee," Pop explained about the team's backup point guard situation, adding, "I don't care who brings it up."
In addition to Ginobili, Danny Green has run the offense a bit the past couple of games and Belinelli has experience doing it from his Chicago days when Derrick Rose was sidelined. Boris Diaw was drafted as a point guard with the Hawks way back when and called himself a "point-center," last night after his strong showing at Minnesota and even rookie Kyle Anderson has "point-forward," mentality and the skills to go with it. The Spurs aren't exactly lacking in willing passers and guys with floor vision, though it would be interesting to see what would happen if the Nets threw a full-court press at them when Parker is resting. Shaun Livingston is no longer on the Nets, so the man for such an assignment would be Jorge Gutierrez.
With all the injuries, the ones to Mills and Belinelli in particular, and a team-wide shooting slump at the three-point line (albeit one that they showed signs of breaking out of against the short-handed Timberwolves), it's been important for the Spurs to be strong in their own end, and they've been far better than one would expect without the services of Splitter, ranking third in the league in defensive efficiency at 95.3.
"We've tried to make that our emphasis because I think we're a little offensively-challenged right now," said Popovich. "Our bench was so important to us last year in scoring the way we did and we can't do that now so playing good defense is what's going to keep us in ball games right now and the offense some nights it'll be decent and some nights it won't but the defense has to be there or we're not going to come out victorious at all."
Indeed, with guys like Austin Daye and Aron Baynes figuring heavily into the rotation, there have been some lulls when the starters have sat. Ginobili has done what he could to fill in the gaps and find open shooters, but he's struggling to score himself and most of his passes are leading to fruitless bricks. The good news is that after a tough first ten games, the Spurs have hit a soft window in their schedule.
Fatigue shouldn't be much of an issue since Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Parker and Ginobili all played 25 minutes or fewer last night, with Ginobili logging 17:45. Contrast that to the Nets where Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson all played over 31 minutes last night at Oklahoma City and who've announced that they're resting Duncan's longtime rival Kevin Garnett. And yes, I've noticed the suspicious timing of that. If the Spurs get out of this game incident free, they'll have three days off for their guys to return to health before taking on another limited team, the Pacers, at home.