Monday, December 27, 2010

Spurs upcoming schedule to test mettle

by Zvon Knezovic

After being swept in the second round of last year’s playoffs, few would have predicted the Spurs to be sitting atop the West — and the league — with a 26-4 record. But even after racking up wins at a franchise record pace, question marks still remain as to whether this Spurs team can truly challenge for their fifth championship.

For all the superlatives thrown the way of this new and improved Spurs team, they've yet to really test themselves against the big boys of the league. Their best wins to date have been on the road against the Jazz and Thunder — likely 50-win teams, and not expected by most to seriously contend through June – and at home against the old Magic — who later went on a run of 7 losses in 8 outings before shaking things up with a trade (and delivered a 22-point blitzing of the Spurs — albeit on a back to back for San Antonio). However, the upcoming schedule will afford the Spurs an opportunity to test themselves against what are very likely to be the two biggest roadblocks standing in the way of an NBA Finals return.

The Spurs will play host to Kobe and the Lakers tonight, and then travel to Dallas on Thursday to take a second crack at Dirk and the new and improved Mavs. If the Spurs are to make a return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007, they will likely have to go through at least one, if not both outfits come the playoffs. It’s safe to say, when it comes to the Lakers and Mavs, the Spurs won’t find a tougher test in terms of matchups. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spurs have a big problem

by Radoslav Komljenovic


The  Spurs are  having serious trouble against front lines consisting of  two big, bruising-types with skill. Milicic-Love, Gasol-Randolph. One can only imagine what it’ll be like against Bynum-Gasol-Odom—not that the latter two are bruisers, but they are big, long and highly skilled.
Specifically, Blair has serious trouble in these match-ups. He can't hold his own on the glass, can't adequately guard any of them and is an afterthought offensively, because the games are bound to be close when you're getting destroyed on the glass. And when the games are close, Blair is, rightly so, an afterthought offensively.

Pop's modus operandi in these match-ups is to (once the game proves to be tougher than initially thought, or at least hoped) play Blair sparingly, lean on Bonner heavily—presumably in the hopes that he can get hot from deep and negate the inevitable disadvantage in the paint and on the glass—and finally lean on McDyess heavily down the stretch.

But the Spurs shouldn't be in these situations consistently against the likes of a Memphis or Minnesota, not where they have to scramble and fight to survive against them. McDyess needs to start in these match-ups and Splitter needs to be inserted into the rotation, at the expense of Blair.

Even if Pop changes the lineups against these types (starting McDyess, inserting Splitter into the rotation, dropping Blair from the rotation), the Spurs will still be at a rebounding disadvantage. Because the reality is, Blair is the second-best rebounder on the team—and Splitter is a distant fourth. 

So plugging Splitter in for Blair won't necessarily help on the boards. But it will help the team defensively, as Splitter's length should at least bother some of the bigger front lines (at least more than Blair is capable of), even if he get's overpowered by some.

The bottom line is, Duncan needs help in the paint. He's 34, with bad knees borne of a ton of mileage and while he's a center by default at this point, due to the game continuously going smaller and faster and his decline in mobility, he's not a true center. Truly, he's a four and a half—asking him to take on two big, bruising-types alone, essentially, is a recipe for disaster.

Reality is, the Spurs have pulled out  three games against the Timberwolves and Grizzlies, mostly because, well, they're the Timberwolves and Grizzlies—and the Spurs have a vast advantage in both talent and experience. That won't be the case against the Lakers.

Perhaps the biggest and most alarming takeaway from the games played against these types of front lines, is Splitter being used sparingly. One more sign that Pop either doesn't see him as the answer or as a necessity for this season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reigning Black's Defensive Gameplan: Bucks vs. Spurs (12/15/10)

by Eric Salinas
Jennings Kid Pretty Darn Good (Bucks' Engine)

1) Control Mr. Brandon Jennings: Spurs should make it a priority to hound Jennings hard and often, utilizing aggressive hedges via the combo of Parker and Hill on the pick-and-rolls (hard traps in the corners when Jennings goes off the pick towards the sideline; away from the middle). The hard hedges can (and should) occasionally turn into hard traps, which will consequently force the ball to less threatening playmakers as the shot-clock counts winds down. After all, anybody but Jennings with the ball as the clock is winding down is of benefit to the Spurs—Jennings' teammates just aren't all that capable of creating efficient offensive opportunities for themselves or others (with the slight exception to Maggette and Salmons as being respectable... nothing more). Should this circumstance play out often, the Bucks should be forced into tough contested shots more often than not. (Not like Drew Gooden isn't accustomed to that or anything.)

2) Box OutDefensive Rebounding: Major emphasis on these two objectives. Bogut and Gooden are very active inside when the ball clangs off the rim. Keep Bogut and Gooden off the offensive glass and away from possible tip-in's or tip-out's. Spurs need to limit the Bucks to one shot per possession as much as possible.

3) Limit Turnovers: Spurs don't want to give the Bucks any free easy fast-break opportunities by turning the ball over. Spurs need to make this offensively challenged Bucks team beat their half-court defense. (Milwaukee is last in the league in points per game and field goal percentage; 91.96 PPG- 41% FG)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Jester in Winter

by G. Scott 

Even among the Spurs' faithful, there are quiet concerns about their legendary anchor, Tim Duncan, and the rather un-Duncan like numbers he has put up at times this season. And although few will admit it, the specter of other legendary athletes who refused to go out at the top of their games looms over this season. Has Duncan finally reached that point in his career? Or are he and Gregg Popovich simply taking a page from former Spur Robert Horry's playbook and saving their best for the playoffs?

Maybe it's a little bit of both. Certainly one of the most obvious reasons that Duncan's numbers are down is that he is simply playing fewer minutes. But there are those nagging games this season where he seemed to struggle against the likes of Darko Milicic. And how could he pull down 18 rebounds one night but only 5 (with zero defensive boards) the next night?