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Ginobili on the Spurs' struggles: 'At times it seems like we want things to come easy to us'

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In his latest column, Manu addresses the Spurs' struggles, the differences between the East and the West and how important the Rodeo Road Trip will be for the team.

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What follows is a translation of Manu Ginobili's column from Argentine newspaper La Nacion, originally published on Jan. 30.

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I don't think we are playing well yet but at least the schedule is giving us a break with more games at home and different level of opponents. We have to play Chicago and then we get two easier games at home. December was rough and hard to get through and we were not healthy, to boot. As a general assessment, we are winning more often but we are still not satisfied with our performance yet and know we have to keep improving. The reality is we need to go back to feeling like we need to play well for the full 48 minutes instead of just 20 or 30 depending on the rival. We play well for a while and then relax. At times it seems like we want things to come easy to us instead of busting our backs like we've always have.

We are not a team with talent to spare who can win at half speed. It doesn't matter if we are playing against the best or worst teams, we need to play well and do all the little things to win or we are going to struggle no matter the opponent. This year it seems we are inadvertently taking some breaks during the game and that's why some games are tougher than expected. It feels like the better the opponent, the easier it is to go into it focused and in the right mindset. That's something that we need to be more consistent with. We have had some good nights in which we get a good lead and then take the foot off the gas pedal and nights in which we start off poorly and then work hard to claw our way back. That leads to close games but it's not enough because anything can happen in the final minutes. We are lacking the consistency to play well for the full game and not just stretches. We are 45 games in and we should be more comfortable with the way we are playing.

It seems to me that winning the last ring closed that open wound and has led us to inadvertently relax. That might have played a part early but at this point we are all trying to solve the problem and start resembling the team we were last year because when we are playing well, moving the ball and winning, the day-to-day gets easier. We need to understand that's they only way. I really don't think anyone believes that because we won it all last year, we should be at the top now. It's just natural to unconsciously feel that way but we are still training like before, saying the same things during games and we have the same hunger.

We know how well we play depends on ourselves. I don't know if the other teams are scouting us more but the truth is, while we are doing better than in December, we are still not playing at a high level. Also, we are facing different type of opponents. Some are not going through a good stretch but they are playing the champions and they take it as an opportunity to turn things around or feel better about themselves and are motivated by that. We are also seeing teams packing the paint and daring us to make the extra pass and teams letting us play two-on-two and having a guy stay with Danny Green, Patty Mills or Matt Bonner, forcing us -- especially Tony and I, who run pick and rolls --  to make tough decisions. Having said that, I don't think it's about others figuring out our game plan.

The Rodeo Road Trip is coming and that's always a special time for us because we start to round out into form for the final stretch of the regular season and the playoffs. We are really hoping to play at the level the trip demands. We are also hoping to get all of our soldiers back -- Marco Belinelli is out now -- because we haven't played a game with everyone healthy. We are excited about that because we need everyone to contribute since we don't have a LeBron or a Durant. Everyone needs to feel valuable and pitch in. And since we haven't had the full team available yet, we are all anxious to see how that looks. We realize that we are slowly starting to play better and that will help us get through the Rodeo Road Trip, which is key for us.

We know there's more parity this year. The West has always been balanced but this time there are ten teams which could easily make the playoffs and fighting for seeding will be tough. The East has been surprising, with three teams no one was expecting to be on top playing well, so it's really there for the taking. Like it has happened over the last few years, it's a step below the West in terms of parity and quality of teams. Atlanta is surprising everyone with their play but the rest go through a lot of up and downs. At times, the two conferences look like two different leagues.

As for me, in December I had to fill a different role. With Patty Mills still out and Tony missing a bunch of games, I was the back up point guard. I think now everything will be getting back to normal. With Kawhi back and taking more of the offensive burden, Tony getting better and everyone on the team feeling like themselves we will slowly get back to our normal shots, assists and minutes distribution. I've been playing more than usual but if you look at the stats from last season and this one, they are similar so it wasn't that big a change. And the truth is, considering how preseason started and the years I've been doing this, I'm happy. I'm glad to play an important role in a good team and I'm definitely feeling well.

That's why I don't focus on things like scoring 27 points or any individual achievements. I really don't pay attention to that. Playing with Tim makes all of that look small in comparison. He reaches milestones like 30,000 points, 147,000 rebounds, 150,000 whatever -- it's really crazy. That happens to legends like him. He gets all the attention and he really deserves it. Since I'm from Argentina and I got to the NBA late, at 25 years old, there are a lot of players with the same career numbers. That's all irrelevant to me, in all honesty. What I enjoy is the day-to-day, watching the team win and try to get in a good place to enter the playoffs strong. I feel like I am in -- well I wouldn't say a bonus stage, but I do realize how rare it is to play for such a good team at this level. I'm fully aware that these are the last seasons and I want to treasure every moment. Now I can't truly say I'm doing that more often than in December.