The Spurs - and perhaps even more so, Spurs fans - learned a tough lesson this week: not everything comes automatically. After the Spurs impressively held their own for the first 27 games of the regular season without MVP Kawhi Leonard, it seemed like anything would be possible once he returned and added that final bit of oomph the Spurs needed on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately, that’s not yet the case. While Leonard did return and looked fine individually, he’s still on a minutes restriction, making the approach and rotations for both halves entirely different and confusing. His teammates need to get used to having him back on the court, and of course there’s that looming question of whether LaMarcus Aldridge can keep up his level of play once Leonard is playing 30 minutes a night.
The Spurs lost all offensive rhythm in both games Leonard played, and coincidentally or not, Aldridge’s best game came in the second match-up against Dallas when Leonard rested. The Spurs will need to find a way integrate both players into the offense, but until Leonard is back to full strength, it’s going to be difficult to find that rhythm and balance again.
Of course, the only way to fix that is to keep playing, and that’s exactly what the Spurs will be doing this week while dealing with their second FIGASENI (FIve GAmes in SEven NIghts) in three weeks. After a home game vs. the injured but hanging-on Clippers, the Spurs will head out West on a three-game road trip, including a visit to Aldridge’s old stomping grounds. It will be an excellent bonding experience for a team that’s having to get to know itself all over again, and hopefully the results get better as more games are played and experience is gained.
Week 9: It’s Texas Showdown week: Kawhi Leonard returns just in time for three straight games against the Spurs Lone Star State foes.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com - 6 (last week: 6)
The Spurs went 0-2 with Kawhi Leonard (on a minutes limit), because their bench had another rough night in Dallas on Tuesday and there was no stopping the Rockets on Friday. But they improved to 20-8 without Leonard with a 13-0 run to close Saturday's game against the Mavs and Manu Ginobili's second game-winner in nine days. Ginobili is registering a career-low in effective field goal percentage, but has already scored more points in the clutch (17 on 5-for-7 shooting) than he did last season (10 on 2-for-9). The Spurs have won nine straight games at home, but will spend most of the next five weeks (and play 12 of their next 17 games) on the road. They are getting Christmas off for the first time since 2012.
Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 105.1 (14) DefRtg: 101.9 (5) NetRtg:+3.2 (6)
David Aldridge, NBA.com - 6 (last week: 5)
ESPN Staff - 5 (last week: 4)
The Spurs have played two games with Kawhi Leonard and have lost both. He had an encouraging debut Tuesday against the Mavericks as the Spurs outscored Dallas by eight points in Leonard's 16 minutes on the floor. But on Friday, the Rockets were too much as the Spurs were outscored by nine points in Leonard's 17 minutes of action.
Kenny Ducey, Sports Illustrated - 6 (last week: 4)
Why are we still surprised Manu can deliver incredible moments at 40?
Chris Barnwell, CBS Sports - 6 (last week: 3)
Kawhi Leonard is back in a limited capacity. He's yet to break 20 minutes, and both games ended up being losses. Then, when he sat out a game, the Spurs won. Could Leonard be the cause of the Spurs issues???? No, of course not. That's ridiculous.
AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today - 6 (last week: 5)
The Spurs have, not surprisingly, erred on the side of caution with Kawhi Leonard, who made his season debut Tuesday, limiting him to 16 and 17 minutes in his first two games back.
"I'm just happy to be out there, just to play the game and enjoy the things I missed — missing shots, losing games, making mistakes, just everything," Leonard said. "I missed everything on the court."
You may now commence with you weekly discussions of how pointless power rankings are.