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Spurs race past rudderless Nets, 99-87

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I can't think of a team in the NBA with less direction than the Nets. They seem to have no plan. Even the Sixers have a plan.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Game 13 Vs. Brooklyn: Spurs 99, Nets 87    Rec: 9-4   Streak: W-4   4th in Southwest, 6th in West

Every time I happen to see a Nets game, I think to myself, "There but for the grace of God go the Spurs."  It's all I could think about, watching the Spurs ground Brooklyn to dust Saturday night at the AT&T Center, the final score 99-87 but the outcome never in doubt after the Spurs raced out to a 16-6 lead. It was hard to concentrate on the game at times, I felt so overcome by the feelings of what might have been.

In many respects the Nets and Spurs are similar, in ways that extend far beyond their color schemes. Both teams are veteran-laden, with a pair of sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Fame bigs in the middle in longtime rivals Kevin Garnett for the Nets and Tim Duncan for the Spurs. Both teams' respective backcourts are Springfield-bound as well. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams for Brooklyn, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for San Antonio. Well, maybe Williams is a stretch, but we'll get to that. The Nets have even taken to emulating the Spurs when it comes to fortifying their bench with foreigners, scouring the globe for the likes of Mirza Teletovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Bojan Bogdanovic, Sergey Karasev and others.

But in all the ways that matter, they're different.

The Nets haven't had stability in ownership, stability in the front office, on the roster, not anywhere, really. They're just a collection of strangers, thrown together, the world's least athletic reality show ever. They're the Atlanta Falcons on Hard Knocks, but without the dynamic personality of Matt Ryan. They're the second-oldest team in the league, with an average age of 29.9, a capped out roster in luxury tax hell with no draft picks in their future. Without a discernable plan.

Brooklyn's supposed talisman, Garnett, who's only been a Net for two years (like so much of the rest of the roster) is a shell of his former self, while the man entrusted to lead the way for this squad, Deron Williams, is similarly irrelevant. Lionel Hollins was hired to coach these graybeards, and while he's not bad at his job, he's been at it long enough to know that the prospects are slim with this bunch.

Duncan, 38, is only a month older than Garnett, and it's true that he entered the league two years later, having attended Wake Forest all four seasons while his rival entered the league straight out of high school. He came into the game with 43,937 regular season minutes on his odometer, compared to Garnett who's logged 49,196.

No, Duncan isn't in his prime anymore, but he's playing remarkably close to it, thanks to the way his minutes have been managed by Gregg Popovich, his coach for his entire pro career. Beginning with his age 27 season, Pop eased off on Duncan's minutes in a major way, playing him fewer than 37 a night that season and than fewer than 35 from the next year on. Duncan never cracked 2,800 minutes after the age of 26 and has been under 2,600 minutes since he turned 32.

Contrast that to Garnett, who toiled like a madman under Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders, playing between 2,957 and 3,321 regular season minutes for between his age 23 and age 30 seasons.  That's over 38 minutes a night, for 76-plus games a year, for eight consecutive seasons. The craziness didn't end for him until Doc Rivers rescued him with the Celtics, drastically cutting Garnett's minutes. To be fair, it helped that Garnett finally had some guys around him who could play. Still, all that mileage on his body took its toll, and KG's games played in his 30's wouldn't earn him a "Big Ticket" from a highway cop: 71, 57, 69, 71, 60, 68, 54. By the time he was shipped to the Nets last year, Garnett was effectively done, like one of those sad boxers who's dead on his feet and just doesn't know it. His PER of 13.3 was by far the lowest of his career and he's checking in with 12.8 so far this season.

It's true tonight was a SEGABABA for both teams, but you'll forgive me if I'm skeptical that Garnett was being rested --after playing a whopping 18 near-useless minutes against the Thunder-- for any reason than avoiding the head-to-head with Duncan who's as lithe and spry as ever. The Spurs legend had his fingerprints all over the box score from the opening tip and had four points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in the first quarter alone, and by half he was openly threatening to pull a "Kirilenko," the ultra-rare 5-by-5 statistical accumulation of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. It's only been done 15 times since 1987, and thrice by AK-47 in his heyday in Utah, when it became en vogue. The otherwordly Hakeem Olajuwon did it six times with Houston and David Robinson pulled it off once himself on Nov. 10, 1992 against Milwaukee. Duncan needed just a block and a couple of steals at half.

Alas, it wasn't to be. The Nets, who weren't getting anything done inside against Tim with Brook Lopez or Mason Plumlee (combined they had nine points and five rebounds in 33:27), went small midway through the third in a desperate effort to get back into the game and Popovich sat Duncan for the duration with 4:52 to go in the third quarter. In total he played just 25:19 but still led the Spurs with 10 boards and tied with Parker with seven assists.

Speaking of Parker, he was brilliant as usual, leading the way with 22 and hit a corner three in the second quarter to briefly hit the 70-percent mark for the season before missing his next two attempts. For a career .321 shooter from downtown it seems highly unlikely that the Frenchman will keep up such a torrid pace from distance (his career-high percentage of .395 came in the 2006-07 season when he made 15-of-38) but Parker made it clear that he's set goals for himself in that regard.

"Before the season I was trying to find some motivation and some goals with (Spurs shooting coach Chip Engalland) and he was like, ‘Let's try to do 50-40-80' and I've never done that," Parker explained. "I think I was at 37 (percent) last year so I missed it by not that much because I was at 81 (percent) with free-throws so I'm going to try to make that the goal this year, try to stay motivated. When you win a lot you have to stay motivated."

If only Williams had such problems. Back in 2007 when he along with Kirilenko led the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals against Parker, most experts would've preferred Williams, and at the very least everyone would've predicted a better future for the former Illini standout. Who knew that would be the peak of his career? Since then he bickered with Jerry Sloan until the longtime Jazz skipper quit, and then found himself traded to the Nets. In New Jersey and now Brooklyn, Williams has been largely anonymous, overshadowed by not just the Parkers and Chris Pauls of the world but easily 15 others. He's just a guy now, with on-again, off-again knee and weight issues. He had a game-high 24 tonight and is so far enjoying a bounce-back season for the Nets, but all that hasn't been good enough to get the team over the hump, as they're 5-8 now in the miserable East.

With Cory Joseph out with a left ankle sprain Popovich leaned on Parker a bit extra, playing him over 39 minutes with three off days coming up and another woeful Eastern foe, the Pacers, looming. Danny Green hit a season-best for the second straight night, scoring 21 on 8-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-7 downtown, as he's starting to find his stroke. Green had seven boards and three blocks himself, while Leonard enjoyed playing in the post for most of the fourth quarter and got up 19 shots, hitting nine of them to finish with 21 and nine boards.

Perhaps I buried the lede. The truth is the 2010 Spurs were all-too-similar to these Nets. Then Green and Leonard came along. Watching Brooklyn slog through their games is a good reminder to never take the youngsters for granted.

Your Three Stars:

3. Tim Duncan (22 pts)

2. Danny Green (9 pts)

1. Tony Parker (29 pts)