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What We Learned from the Spurs win over the Trail Blazers

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Enjoy the unknown while we still can.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

This was a pretty routine win. The Blazers were missing a multiple key players, the Spurs were at full strength (aside from Derrick White’s absence), and that’s pretty much it. The math adds up. Now, as we saw against Houston last Thursday, the math can very easily be thrown out the window on any given night because math is not to be trusted, but yesterday afternoon everything made sense in Portland. The Spurs were the better team and they played like it. What a concept!

We’re creeping up on the part of the season where we might know things. We’re not there yet, but pretty soon here we’re going to be somewhat justified in drawing conclusions about what we think this team is. Are they a legit contender for the 4-5 seed out West, or are they still more of a “scrap their way into the playoffs any way they can” type of team? Should we be raising or lowering our expectations for what they’re capable of? I know a lot of you are going to be tempted to answer these extremely rhetorical questions, and I can assure that I am not interested. Like I said, we’re close...but we’re not there yet.

I like not knowing things right now. Every game feels a little less life or death and a little more like a science experiment. If Lonnie Walker IV plays like this, what happens? If Keldon Johnson does this, what happens? If the Blazers forget that the basketball gods crafted LaMarcus Aldridge up on Mt. Olympus specifically to hit 15-foot jumpers near the top of circle.......what could possibly happen? There’s still a big beautiful season out there for us to find out if these guys can keep improving on defense or if this new offensive mindset can really take hold. That’s the best. We don’t have to worry about the standings or the trade deadline or free agency or any of the other harsh realities the creep up on you during a season. We’re 14 games in! When anything can happen, that means that everything can still happen.

Don’t you just want to hang out in this space a little bit longer? Because I really like watching this team right now. It feels like they’re building something pretty cool, and it feels spectacularly unburdened by the weight of expectations. There’s no title they’re expected to win. There’s no playoff streak they’re desperate to keep alive. There aren’t even any fans in the arena to disappoint. The only tangible responsibility they have at the moment is to each other. All they have to do is go out there and learn and grow and get a little better every night.

Sooner or later these games are going to start mattering. We aren’t going to be able to shrug off a lifeless series against a depleted Rockets team, and we aren’t going to be able to be pleasantly surprised by a nice road win because because we’re going to start judging these games against knowns instead of unknowns. There’s going to be games we need to win or games we should’ve won. That part of it all can be fun too, but I can’t honestly say that I’m looking forward to it. I like letting my mind wander during games when Dejounte Murray goes coast to coast or Devin Vassell heaves a pin point, full court pass on a fast break. I like welling up with pride watching Lonnie Walker play himself back into a game after a tough start. I like seeing our ancient, right on death’s doorstep, 30-year-olds show off that they still have some moves. Most of all, I like that it doesn’t really matter, Not yet, anyway.

That day is coming and it’ll be here before we know it. These guys are too good to keep flying around under the radar for much longer. We’re going to start expecting things from them and we’re going to start having goals they need to hit, and that means they’re probably going to miss a few of them. It’s going to be disappointing at times, and this whole operation might even stop being fun for a little bit. That’s okay. That happens. That’s life. Forgive me if I’m not in a rush to get there though.

Right now they’re free. Right now they’re fun. What could be better than that?

Takeaways:

  • Back when the Rodeo Road Trip used to be a cool and fun thing and not a “lose all but two games and pretty much sink the season” thing, people would always make a big deal about how transformative the trip was for everyone. It all seemed very zen, like Pop would orchestrate these little Eat, Pray, Love adventures for everybody to get centered and ready to face the gauntlet down the home stretch of the season. I think a similar effect is happing on road trips this year because they almost provide the team a sense of normalcy compared to being home. They all get to be together and they literally can’t go their separate ways so, basically, they have no other choice but to just sit around, bond, and focus on basketball. Compare how locked in they were on their last trip out West versus how zoned out they seemed against Houston last week. Something to keep an eye on. I’ve never thought about just making the whole plane out of Rodeo Road Trips.
  • That stat sheet says that Jakob Poeltl only had 7 rebounds yesterday, and I think that’s garbage because he absolutely owned the glass in this game. I lost track of the amount of possessions he kept alive by fighting for space, getting a hand on the ball, and just generally being too much for any of Portland’s dudes to deal with. He was a monster down there, and I don’t think the Spurs are able to keep the Blazers at bay without him in this one.
  • No one in the world is better at being Patty Mills than Patty Mills is. I don’t know how to describe it — in fact, I don’t think I ever have — but he just has this intangible energy around him that colors in the margins of a game that’s different from pretty much anyone else I’ve ever seen in a Spurs jersey. He’s good for at least 14 points every night. He’s good for getting lost going through at least 4 screens on defense every night. He’s scrappy and tough and light and unshackled by any sort of realistic template for what kind of player he’s supposed to be. He’s our backup point guard? He’s our minister of culture? He’s imminently replaceable? I can’t imagine this team without him. What a fascinating card he is to have in the deck.
  • I’m going to speak very, very softly because I don’t want to scare it away but...I think Devin Vassell might be pretty good. Shhh. Shh. Everyone shut up about it now.

WWL Post Game Press Conference

- I know you said you don’t really want to get put a name on any expectations for this team yet, but you have to have at least some predictions for how this season will go, right?

- Did you hear that Marco Belinelli dropped 25 in his first EuroCup game with Virtus Bologna?

- I, uh, no, what? What’s EuroCup?

- It’s only the 2nd biggest competition in European basketball.

- 2nd biggest? So it’s not even top tier basketball in Europe?

- Don’t be greedy. If Bologna when EuroCup then they’ll qualify for EuroLeague next season and then we’ll really be in business.

- Right. So, Marco made some shots? He’s doing good?

- Saying Marco “hit some shots” is like saying Michelangelo “did some renovations” on the Sistine Chapel. Marco unleashed the full fury of his arsenal on those poor slobs playing for Cedevita Olimpija. I’m talking floaters where he falls to the ground and slides 10 feet away. Im talking buzzer beating threes. I’m talking plays where he grabs the ball, lopes down the court and half heartedly draws a foul before whipping out an off balance shot from half-court and banking it in. Honestly? If I weren’t heavily invested in Bologna winning EuroCup this year I’d say the Spurs should maybe bring him back for the stretch run.