Adrift in a canal of 'nerdom', I'm surrounded by a slip of booths, each exhibitor peddling the latest products and technologies to initiated gamers. I'm exploring Pax South San Antonio over the weekend, lost beneath alphas and betas; unable to distinguish coding from dev kits.
My ears hum with the white noise of technical jargon, like trying to communicate in a foreign country without the aide of a translator.
I tour the massive Henry B. Gonzalez convention center, attempting to digest the pixelated presentations - an old timer unable to operate a wired mouse connected to a machine running DOS.
I climb into a capsule, the interior illuminated with a blue light spotlighting panels of various USBs, auxiliary chord plugs, and digital displays. At another demonstration, I tighten the straps of an Oculus Rift around my head, and navigate through artificial worlds; after removing the futuristic helmet, the force of reality hits me like the bludgeoning of yesterday's hangover. Squinting, it takes me a moment to adjust my depth perception, and shake away the vertigo that nearly knocks me to the floor. After awhile - as a non-gamer - I feel unwelcome in this meeting of those plugged into a reality I have little understanding of.
This wandering navigation with a broken, traditional compass - not a digital device - mimics the Orlando Magic falling apart in San Antonio, collapsing during a lackluster first and fourth quarter, against a revolving rotation of Spurs players, encouraged by the basketball nerds of the Alamo City.
Home victories are turning into an expected spectacle for the fans; visiting teams reluctantly trudge out onto the AT&T Center during player introductions, peering at the center court logo like it's a famished lion unchained during a gladiator event. San Antonio has yet to lose back-to-back contests, and they regularly exact their frustrations from a loss on the next opponent, averaging a margin of victory of 20.6 points. In 24 of 26 home victories, they haven't trailed in the fourth quarter.
San Antonio improved to 26-0 at home, winning 35 consecutive games since last season. The record mark has never been matched in any of their previous championship seasons.
Granted, the middle quarters were a disaster - Orlando has now lost 13 of their past 14 games, and are a so-so squad that San Antonio should have dismantled with ease. The blame of the Spurs mid-game struggles is purely their failure of nabbing defensive rebounds; overall, Orlando snagged 19 boards, attempting 18 more second-chance points.
PtR editor-in-chief J.R. Wilco wrote the rehash following the Cleveland loss on Saturday, citing Pop initiating various combinations into the game to see how they react when placed in the line of fire - and that was the case again as only Aldridge got over 29 minutes of playing time; Orlando had five players surpass this tally. Of top 100 NBA player minutes per game, only Kawhi Leonard even cracks the top 50 with 32.6 mpg. During the game, primarily bench players were responsible for wearing down Orlando's second unit, systematically breaking down the starting team throughout the fourth when they returned to the fray.
After 18 seasons as the Spurs head coach, it's no secret Popovich is fond of plugging players into various roles, compensating for impending retirements and inevitable injuries. It's a continually refreshed cast of characters like the ones that host the convention booths year after year. The faces change, but the excellence and the passion continue without interruption.
LaMarcus Aldridge & Patty Mills
The award is split between both starter and reserve. Aldridge was absolutely unstoppable in the first quarter. Contributing to a perfect 14-0 run before Orlando notched a point, Aldridge feasted on Vucevic's defense, draining 14 points on 5-of-6 field goals and 4-4 free throws at the end of the quarter, impressing with prowess inside the paint and mid-range jumpers; the first-time Spurs All-star finished the game with a season high in scoring and swats with 28 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Mills was the MVP off the bench, providing the hot-hand behind the arc with 3-of-4 3pm, and red-hot shooting with 9-of-13 fgm. Mills tied a season high in scoring with 22 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds.
The Spurs celebrated George "The Iceman" Gervin's 20th anniversary of his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Ticket-holders were given an exclusive Iceman poster, and souvenir cups celebrating the Spurs legend's achievements were for sale. The stadium was filled with fans dancing to 70's music, dressed in bell bottoms and sequined tops. The bizarre ABA atmosphere probably threw off Orlando's game.
Without Duncan, Aldridge is averaging 15.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, lower than his season average of 15.8 ppg and 8.6 trb. However, in the last three games without the Big Fundamental, he seems to be stepping up in the low-post offensively, averaging 22.6 points. His rebounds remain lower than his average at a meager 5.3 rebounds, and the Spurs are hurting off the glass without Duncan. In the last three games without him, the San Antonio were out-rebounded by the Orlando 51-42; against Cleveland 43-32; against Golden State 45-38.
Neither Aldridge nor West were able to handle Nikola Vucevic. The Orlando center dumped in 20 points and grabbed 10 boards. Last season, Vucevic averaged 20.5 ppg and 12 rpg against the Spurs.
The Spurs are on an 8-game winning streak against the Magic, and haven't lost since December 23, 2010.
By The Numbers
18: Orlando's deficit, before clawing back within 8-points by intermission. During the third quarter, they took the lead four times, before collapsing in the fourth.
9: Number of All-star selections for George Gervin, who was in attendance for the ceremony. During an in-game interview, Gervin told Fox Sports, "If you're gonna win a championship, you gotta play defense." The Spurs heeded this advice in the fourth, tightening up, forcing four turnovers, and outscoring Orlando by ten in the quarter.
16: San Antonio's turnovers. The sloppy ball-handling contributed to Orlando's comeback. The number is a little over the Spurs average of 13.