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Bench Rising

By Jeff Koch on December 8, 2012.

James Harden is a good player. Really good. Perhaps even great. But he’s not good enough to beat the Spurs alone. And even though the score remained relatively close through three and a half quarters, the Spurs were never really in jeopardy of losing this one, because Harden was the only Rocket doing anything positive on the floor.

This was most apparent at the beginning of the second quarter. Harden went to the bench to get some rest, and our bench unit quickly put on something like an 11-0 run. The Rockets called timeout and quickly got Harden back in the game. Without him on the floor, they just couldn’t do anything.

And the Spurs could do everything. As most Spurs observers are noticing, the team is really starting to round into form, emulating last year’s breathtaking offense that spurred them on to a 20-game win streak and drawing historic comparisons. At the beginning of the season, two things seemed out of whack: the bench and the 3-point shooting. Both were lagging from last season, which was odd considering the team was virtually unchanged. This makes Duncan’s early season even more impressive, as he was just about the only above-average facet of the team (with Parker and Ginobili’s early struggles).

But now the bench is really coming together. Mills and De Colo are proving to be very good back-ups for Parker and Ginobili. De Colo in particular has really impressed over the last few weeks. He seems much less tentative, freed to play his game. He still needs to get a better jumper, but he already is shooting much more confidently than the beginning of the season.

Splitter seems to have settled in nicely to his role. Surround him with adept passers, and no one can stop him on the roll. It’s crazy. I often have to rewind games to see how he got so wide open 3 feet from the basket. That’s not an area generally reserved for wide open shooters. I’d still like to see him dunk more, but it’s hard to argue with his offensive efficiency and what he brings to the second-unit.

This isn’t cutting edge analysis, but if our 3-point shooting begins to return to last year’s levels, we could very easily go on another historic run. (Though I still maintain that the movement away from the 3-point shot is a somewhat deliberate move by Pop.)

Looking at our early season schedule, and in light of the early season downward trend of usual positives for the team, it’s amazing that we are 16-4. The team just keeps winning, even while we slowly start to put things together. If this keeps up, there is a great chance we can really get rolling late in the season as our schedule (travel-wise, at least) really lets up.

But for now: more travel fun. As people have pointed out, we start a 4-game, 6-night road trip spanning all 4 time zones. Really, schedule makers? The trip begins tonight in Charlotte, and ends Thursday in Portland (a game I will be attending). Given the rigors of the trip, I think 2-2 or 3-1 will be quite successful.

Also, Thursday night’s game is on TNT. And will be the end of a taxing road trip. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

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