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A Spurs fan's view of Las Vegas Summer League: Day 1

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Mark Barrington traveled to Las Vegas to see the Spurs play in the NBA Summer League. Due to some poor planning and overall weirdness, it didn't work out quite the way he planned it. But lessons were learned and Spurs were seen.

Mark Barrington

It was somewhere between noon and 1pm as I trudged through a hot, windy Saturday Las Vegas afternoon. I had left the Hard Rock with my camera and notebook, figuring I could easily handle an eight tenths of a mile hike. But I had gotten just one hour of sleep in the last 30, I felt woozy, and I was starting to think I was lost.

Walking the main strip in Las Vegas is a singular experience. Travelling by foot anywhere else in Sin City is not for the faint of heart or the sleep deprived. There were no sidewalks for a good part of my journey, and I had to walk through an asphalt wasteland of construction sites and run down student housing, shot through with roads filled with cars driven by people who apparently view pedestrians as obstacles to be dodged quickly while hurtling towards some unseen destination.

How did I get here? I just wanted to see a Spurs game.

*   *   *

It all started on Friday night. Even though I was going to Vegas in the morning, I didn't want to miss my regular D&D night.  We were playing 'Star Wars: Imperial Assault,' in which a ragtag group of rebels try to keep the Empire from taking over their planets. I was playing a Wookiee, and it was my job to protect my team of interstellar rebels from an Imperial army led by my buddy Shane; the most evil bastard in all of known space.

The key to this game is for the rebel team to act before the superior forces of The Empire can react and fortify their position. Alas, it was not to be. Our team moved deliberately, and by the end game there was a huge mass of Empire cannon fodder in our way. I had hoped I could get home by midnight as my flight left at 6am, but the situation had evolved into a stalemate, and Han Solo couldn't even get us to the exit.

As 2 am approached, I hatched a plan. The Wookiee burst into the corridor and started to take down Imperial Storm Troopers. He was taking lots of damage but enemies fell, clearing a path through the corridor -- behind the Wookiee ... leading towards Han.

The stalemate was broken, but not in our favor. Taking advantage of the path, the despicable Shane led the Imperial forces into the opening and quickly routed the Rebels. Han slipped away and avoided capture, like he always does.

I headed home at 2:30 am, to try and get an hour of sleep before getting on a plane to go to the NBA Summer League. I made it to the airport on time and got onto my uncomfortable and cramped 9am flight. We touched down in Las Vegas around 9:00 am.

I went to check in at the Hard Rock Hotel, which is just a stone's throw away (just 0.8 miles) from where the Summer League games are being played: the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus. I would get into my room and rest a bit before I headed out to the games.

Alas, it was not to be. No rooms were ready, and I had to wait. What's worse, I had forgotten to charge my phone (it was under 5%) and I had to find a place to recharge or I would lose contact with modern society. Not only that, but the hotel wouldn't notify me when my room was ready.

I found a plug I could use in the casino, and I was able to sit and surf the Internet on my phone until the casino staff asked me to move. The lack of sleep was catching up with me, but I took a walk around the casino and after a couple of hours, I went back to the front desk, and they found me a room. Exhausted, I dumped my stuff and prepared to get some much-needed sleep when I happened to catch sight of the clock. It was almost noon and there was no time to rest before the game. I'd have to grab my camera and writing pad, and leave for the arena right away.

Which brings me back to that walk.

I couldn't see anyone else on my walk, but I shouldn't have been worried. As soon as I made it to the parking lot, I could see that there was a party going on, and throngs of basketball fans were filing past a giant basketball emblazoned with Adam Silver's signature. Outside the arena there was a statue of former Spurs coach Jerry Tarkanian chewing on a towel.  If I'm not mistaken, he also coached some college team.

There are actually two arenas: the Thomas and Mack center has a fairly large arena where the UNLV Running Rebs play, and a smaller court, Cox Pavilion, where the women's team plays. Both are in use for the Summer League.

By the time I got in, Spurs vs. Knicks had already started and New York had built a 9-2 lead. The Summer Spurs didn't look good in the first few moments and it was 13-4 by the time I got to my seat.

This Spurs summer league team looks better than they did in Utah.  A lot of it may be due to them having a little more time playing together, but I also think this roster is just more solid. There isn't any NBA star-level talent on the Spurs summer league roster, but everyone on the team knows their role. The Knicks had a couple of rotation players and Kristaps Porzingis, the 4th pick in this year's draft. At least on paper, the Spurs looked outclassed talent-wise.

But one late addition, who the program listed as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, made a big impression. Jonathon Simmons was everywhere, stealing the ball, distributing it to his teammates and throwing it down with authority.

The guy constantly hustles while playing fast and under control.  It's easy to see why the front office brought him on board.

The Spurs tied the game back at the end of the first quarter and had a chance to take the lead with a buzzer-beater that nearly went in.

The game was close throughout, and Kyle Anderson and Simmons played well off each other.  Thanasis Antetokounmpo showed his athleticism for the Knicks and beat the Spurs defense for some nice dunks that excited the crowd.  CleAnthony Early stood out for the Knicks with some outstanding play.

Whenever anyone misses a shot so badly that it doesn't hit the rim, the crowd at Summer League starts loudly chanting 'air ball ... air ball.'  I've seen it happen at other games, but the gusto and enthusiasm for this at Summer League is unmatched.

The game came down to the last few seconds with the Spurs down 3, and coach Becky Hammon called a perfect play to get Jarrell Eddie an open three-point shot on the left wing.  He missed the shot, but it was a perfectly executed play. Hammon made history by being the first female head coach of an NBA summer league team, but this was the first time I felt the need to mention her name as she did a great job coaching the team.

After the game, I checked out some of the attractions around the arena.  Pop-a-shot was extremely popular. The NBA is doing a great job making this event fun and interesting for the fans. I spotted Coach Bud from the Hawks on the upper level taking a phone call, but he took off when he caught me staring at him.  At least I think it was him.

I moved to the Cox Pavilion to catch a bit of the Wizards vs. the Suns. That's is a great place to watch a game as it's small and intimate, and you're right on top of the court. The sound is great, and you can hear everything the refs and players say. Alex Lin looked pretty impressive for the Suns, but the lack of sleep was starting to get to me and by halftime I was beginning to doze in my seat.

I headed back to my hotel room, and after a hot and gritty walk back, I landed in my bed and took a nap.  After a few hours, I woke up and wrote on this story. While it didn't go exactly to plan, at least I'm rested, and I'm planning to watch the Spurs take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

See you then.

Continue the series with Part 2