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The Spurs are the anti-Pelicans

The NBA cognoscenti has some things to say about New Orleans and San Antonio, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t heard, it’s being said that the New Orleans Pelicans have a real bright future. The talking heads have been going on about it all season. Sure there have been some starts and stops. Zion Williamson couldn’t start the season and the Pelicans limped out of the gate. But, he returned a little more than halfway through the season and all the analytics and predictive simulations went crazy. The Pelicans were great with Zion plus they had one of the easiest remaining schedules in the entire NBA. Surely they would go on a tear and make the playoffs.

They were getting better. At least with Zion they were .500. Then (as it always seems to with the New Orleans franchise) something got in the way. The pandemic hit and the rest of the season was cancelled.

But the NBA came up with a plan to get things started again. One way or another, we were going to get LeBron and Zion in the playoffs together. I don’t think for a minute that one of the main reasons for putting this thing together wasn’t the potential of a Zion-versus-LeBron playoff series. But then something happened.

The medical team put Zion on a minutes restriction and the Pelicans faltered out of the bubble gate. Of course they did. The New Orleans Pelicans can’t have nice things.

When they moved the team from Charlotte to New Orleans for the 02-03 season they were coming off of 3 straight playoff appearances. They then made the playoffs their first two seasons in their new city. Baron Davis was their guy then. But something happened. I don’t remember what it was. Maybe it was because he was injury prone or maybe it was a disagreement with management. The details don’t matter, but something happened. Davis was traded and New Orleans missed the playoffs.

Never fear. They had a new studly point guard, Chris Paul. They made the playoffs with him 3 of the 6 years he was there, but never 2 in a row. He was traded. Maybe he got frustrated with the team around him. Maybe he was getting banged up. The details don’t matter. Something happened and the success could not be sustained.

Then they suffered through a bad year, and were immediately rewarded with the number one pick, Anthony Davis. His talent showed almost immediately and in his second year he became a perennial 20 point 10 rebound guy. Surely they couldn’t miss this time. Well, they only made the playoffs 2 out of his 7 years there. Then he was traded. Maybe he was frustrated with the team around him, maybe he was injury prone, maybe he didn’t get along with management. The details don’t matter, but something happened. Again.

Now we have a new hope for New Orleans with Zion Williamson. And I have a feeling I can see where this is going. Just like with every other star player New Orleans has had, there will be a short spurt of success then something will happen. Maybe Zion’s body won’t hold up or maybe he’ll not get along with management. The point is, something will happen. It always has. There’s a lot of hype about the Pelicans’ future. I’ll believe it when I see it because the more things change the more things stay the same.

Speaking of things staying the same: it’s a well-known fact that the San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 seasons in a row. But what’s less well known is that if the Spurs don’t make the playoffs this year it will only be the 6th time in their franchise history they have failed to do so. That’s right. The Spurs have completed 52 seasons and have only missed the playoffs 5 times. Since their start in the ABA as the Dallas Chaparrals in 1967 they have only missed the playoffs 5 times. And they have never in their history missed the playoffs 2 years in a row. It seems that the Spurs have always had the ball bounce their way. For them something happens and it always turns out good.

The only real low point the franchise has ever had were the four years after George Gervin left the team. In those four years they never finished with a .500 record, but somehow still made the playoffs twice. I don’t know the details. Something happened, but unlike the Pelicans, it worked out for the Spurs.

Eventually the bottom fell out on the team during the 88-89 season, but then David Robinson was done with his naval service and could join the team and they went right back to winning 50+ games every season. Somehow it always worked out for the Spurs.

Even when their star player gets hurt, it works out for them. David Robinson missing a season led to the Spurs getting another number 1 pick, Tim Duncan. Another setback, another rise from the ashes like a phoenix, better and stronger.

Don’t have Gervin anymore, that’s okay here comes an all-time great center. The all-time great center gets hurt. That’s okay here’s an even better all-time great big man. And you get to have both of them together for 4-5 seasons. Then to top it all off you add 2 late round draft picks that turn into franchise all-time greats and suddenly you’ve made the playoffs for 22 years in a row.

Every time it looks like the Spurs franchise might take a dip, the cosmic string pulls them right back up and every time it looks like the Pelicans might finally be on the rise the cosmos forces them to crash back to earth. Honestly, who did you think was going to win Sunday’s game?

With that being said, I’ve got a couple of shout outs I’d like to make for the Spurs 122-113 victory over the Pelicans.

Derrick White

Take care, DW, and feel better soon. I love watching this man play. The Spurs got off to a 14-3 lead, but after a timeout the Pelicans came back to tie it at 14. Then Derrick White hit a jumper from the elbow and 2 threes to build the lead back up. During the second quarter the Spurs offense was sputtering so Derrick took the game in hand again. This time instead of his shooting he started driving the ball to the hoop. His first drive led to an assist to Eubanks. Then he got a layup for himself. Then drove and kicked out to Dejounte Murray for three before Murray paid White back by hitting him with a pass for a fastbreak dunk. He finished it all off by taking a charge. Because of course he did. The first half was Derrick White in a nutshell. He can do everything.

Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks

Are these guys a viable rotation at the 5 spot? They looked like it against the Pelicans. They combined for 12 points and 25 rebounds. Both played good defense on Zion Williamson all game. In fact the Pelicans as a team all had trouble finishing at the rim. I don’t know if Poeltl and Eubanks were directly responsible for that, but I’m going to go ahead and give them the credit. A stellar game for these two.

Oh, can we get Poeltl to try and dunk the ball every time. He’s missed too many soft put backs in the bubble. Just jam it home. If they try and block it, break their arm off at the elbow. Even if they force a miss it will most likely draw a foul. Just dunk it.

Old guys

For as much as we like to talk about the future and potential of these teams, the veterans really came to play. Rudy Gay has been scoring big buckets for this team the whole time they’ve been in the bubble. Maybe this is the first time I’m noticing it, but his defense this game was outstanding. He was all over the place tipping passes, getting rebounds and steals. He even took a charge. He still hit big buckets too. With the Pelicans trying to make a furious comeback and only down 4, Gay stepped up and hit a huge 3 and got fouled for a 4 point play putting the Spurs back up by 8. Then he drove on Jaxson Hayes and had a spectacular dunk right in the young man’s face.

And I can’t talk about clutch plays without mentioning DeMar DeRozan. 15 of his 27 points were scored in the 4th quarter and most of them seemed to beat back a Pelicans comeback attempt. New Orleans got within 9 and DeMar hit a jumper from the free throw line. The Pelicans got within 6 and DeMar hit a jumper from the top of the key. The Pelicans got within 5 and DeMar drove to the basket for a hoop. The Pelicans got within 3 and DeMar posted up Holiday and got layup. You get the idea. The 4th quarters in Orlando have belonged to DeMar.

Young guys

I have one last special shout out. And it goes to the young guys Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV. These young men got an education trying to guard JJ Redick. They guy is constantly moving and trying to make things happen. It looks like a nightmare trying to stay with him. He ended up with 31 points and hit 8 threes. It looked like each guy had some time to try and guard him with little success, but I guarantee they are better defenders now for having gone through it.

Before I forget, Lonnie Walker IV only shot 3/13, but dished out 6 dimes. I’m pretty sure it was in the second quarter that he assisted on 3 straight baskets all off penetration. He drove and hit shooters in each corner on consecutive possessions. Then drove and hit Poeltl in the paint for an easy two. That is a very good sign for the Spurs. Walker IV could be taking the next step in his development.

This game was the story of 2 franchises coming to the same point from opposite directions. One that can never seem to do anything right and the other that can never seem to do anything wrong. And it played out on the court. The players change, but the result is the same. For years I’ve been hearing about the demise of the Spurs. But this is their 53rd year going strong. Are the Spurs are finally finished? I’ll believe it when I see it.