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Baby I’ve Got Your Number

Season 50, Games 79 and 80
San Antonio 102, Dallas 89
San Antonio 87, Los Angeles Clippers 98
61-19, 2nd in the West

The playoffs start in one week; thank God.

It’s hard to watch “meaningless” games. What makes it even more difficult is knowing that each “meaningless” game can actually have negative impact on the team. Letting off the gas too early and playing for nothin for too long of a stretch can bring you into the playoffs dull, unprepared to match the necessary intensity playoff games require.

So I’m glad Pop isn’t resting players these final two games. I think this is a mistake the team has made in years past, and it felt like the team never regained their edge. Unlike last season (though against the same team), the playoffs will be a battle from the opening minute against a Memphis Grizzlies squad who have no doubt that they can beat the Spurs in a best-of-seven series.

I liked the way the way Pop managed these two games. Rest against Dallas on the road (giving the rested players an extra day off before the final push), then start the final push at home against the Clippers, a team that’s always a challenge for the Spurs to play.

It’s hard to take too much from either game. The Mavs likely would have won the game if Carlisle hadn’t essentially ceded the game at halftime, making the second half C-Squad vs. C-Squad (I like our C-Squad in any comparable battle). But it was fun to see the young ‘uns get the win and get lots of valuable playing time.

The Clippers were playing for real stakes and the Spurs weren’t. So while the game could have been more competitive, that slight difference in motivation will always manifest. The Spurs were just a step slow everywhere compared to the Clippers. I don’t like it–the Clippers are my second least favorite team to lose to–but I understand it. Factor in the way the Clippers match-up so well against the Spurs, and the loss makes sense.

So let’s look at some positives from the game:

–Aldridge contines to look sharp. He is playing aggressively on both ends of the court, rarely falling into his passive mode (probably the root of all the knocks against him). His defense on Griffin was tremendous in the first half, and his offensive game was flowing, as well. I hope Aldridge can have a productive playoffs.

–Kawhi seems to have rediscovered his long ball, which helps open up the rest of his game. His playmaking has obviously taken a dramatic step up in the last 2 months, which will be critical as he starts to see more and more double-teams. Like Aldridge, I hope Kawhi has a good playoffs. He needs to show he can lead a team in the playoffs.

–Gasol played great off the bench. I’m excited to see how the brother vs. brother match-up plays out in the playoffs.

Areas of concern:

–Parker. This will never go away. He’ll have good games, he’ll have more bad games. The fates of the team will rest too much on his play.

–The Spurs seem to have good offensive line-ups and good defensive line-ups, but not many that are really good at both. How Pop manages this will be critical, and this will likely become more and more of an issue the deeper the team goes into the playoffs…assuming they do.

Of course, the best news of all is that the Spurs almost certainly will not have to face the Clippers again this season. Only two teams beat them twice: the Clippers and the Grizzlies. (Ugh.). The Clippers beat them three times. They just have the Spurs’ number. Their starters (who are very good) tear up our defense. Their bench (who mostly stink) kill our bench (who mostly don’t stink). I don’t understand it, but we just never play them well.

Good riddance, Clippers. And bad luck in the Playoffs.

The Spurs close the season on a very tough 2-game road trip: Portland on Monday, Utah on Wednesday. The Blazers have locked up the 8-seed, so aren’t necessarily playing for anything. However, they’ve been fighting for their playoff lives for so long, it’s doubtful they’ll let up the last week of the season.

The Jazz will be fighting for that 4-seed and home court in the first round. That game will likely be huge for them.

The Spurs are still playing for nothing other than rhythm and confidence. I’d like to see them win at least one of these games so they don’t go into the playoffs on their only 3-game losing streak of the season.

Go Spurs Go.

DNW-Apathy

Season 50, Game 78
San Antonio 95, Los Angeles Lakers 102
60-18, 2nd in the West

Let’s throw out a hypothetical situation:

Say there’s this team–call them the “Lasers”. The Lasers aren’t very good. They’re so bad, in fact, that they have one of the three worst records in the league. This isn’t all bad, though, because bad teams get rewarded with high draft picks, as we know. And there are some good players in this draft.

So it behooves the Lasers to get a good draft pick. But it gets trickier: if the Lasers don’t get a top-3 draft pick, they have to give it to another team in the Eastern Conference. The way the draft works, the worse you are, the likelier the chance you’ll stay in the Top-3. So it’s much better to be the 2nd worst team than the 3rd worst team.

Complicating matters even more, if the Lasers fall out of the Top-3 in the draft, not only do they lose this year’s lottery pick, but they lose another lottery pick in the future, to another Eastern Conference team.

So the stakes are high: finish in the Top-3 for the draft and be almost assured two really good draft picks to build the core of your future team around. Finish outside of the Top-3 and lose both of these draft picks and most likely stay stuck below mediocrity for the foreseeable future with no clear path to build your way out of it.

Now let’s say you’re the genius coach of a really good Western Conference team (let’s call them the Blurs), you’re locked into the #2-seed, with no chance to move up or down, and you’re playing the Lasers with absolutely zero incentive to win or lose. But you realize that if you lose to the Lasers, it will increase their likelihood of losing their draft picks, which will keep them bad for a very long time, eliminating a future rival. Plus, those good draft picks  that would have ended up on the Lasers now go to the Eastern Conference, where they will stay out of your way for many future playoff runs.

Do you lose the game?

Do I think Pop and Co. are diabolical enough to actually do this? No. Am I absolutely certain they didn’t? No.

(For the record: that win was terrible for the Lakers. Absolutely terrible. They no longer control their ability to finish with the second worst record in the league, and have a really good chance of losing their lottery pick. I love Lakers schadenfreude.)

The Spurs face the Mavs on Friday night in Dallas in yet another completely meaningless game for both teams. Dallas is marginally helped by losing (incrementally improving draft lottery odds), so perhaps the Spurs will secure a win by default.

Go Spurs Go.

See You Soon

Season 60, Game 77
San Antonio 95, Memphis 89
60-17, 2nd in the West

For the fourth time in about 3 weeks (OK, a bit longer than that, but not much) the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies played a basketball game. In about 11 days, they will play 4 to 7 more basketball games.

So I have nothing to say about this game. It feels like the Spurs and the Grizzlies have been playing the same game over and over for 10 years. The Spurs tend to win more of them than they lose, but they’re never easy and neither team comes out the either end feeling well.

For perspective, the average score of the 4 games this season: San Antonio 90.5, Memphis 93. Take out those pesky extra 5 minutes they played tonight, and that drops to a scintillating 87.75 to 91.75.

In other words, get ready for some playoff grinds.

In happier news, the Spurs won their 60th game, making the first time they’ve won 60 games in back-to-back seasons, which seems rather surprising given their consistent level of excellence. But there you go. We’re still in a golden age of Spurs basketball.

Pulling out on the schedule a bit, this game essentially ended one of the toughest stretches on the Spurs schedule. In that stretch they were 4-1, beating Memphis, Oklahoma City, Utah, and Cleveland; only losing to Golden State. Pretty, pretty good. The team is playing really well, and rounding into a good playoff form.

Tonight’s game kicks off a 4 games in 5 nights stretch, with the rare home and home back-to-back to start. Given tonight’s OT, I’d expect some resting tomorrow night. But the game is against the Lakers, who literally risk the fate of the franchise with every win. Just the battle we were all waiting for: epic rest vs. epic tank.

I feel like rest (the Spurs) should still win that game.

Go Spurs Go.

Did We Learn Anything Watching Golden State vs San Antonio?

(Photo: Getty Images)

I’m going to level with you all before I get deep into this one.

I have no clue what to expect in a potential Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs playoff series. The season series was just about as nonsensical as it gets. Teams this talented and well-coached shouldn’t play three blowouts against one another. Never mind that two of the blowout wins were by the team on the road.

Still, we must have learned something from these games, as non sequitur as they seemed… right?

If nothing else, we’re going to try to learn, so buckle up!

GAME ONE
Season Opener
Spurs at Warriors, October 25, 2016
Spurs win 129-100

It’s hard to remember this game, it was so long ago. So much has changed in the world since this glorious night. Back then, the USA hadn’t even elected a reality TV star as president yet! What a world… what a world!

Anyway, believe it or not, in the first game of the post-Tim Duncan Spurs era (coincidentally, the first game of the evil villain Kevin Durant Warriors era), three of the oldest guys left playing basketball strolled into Oakland and “Get off my lawn’d” the Warriors into a pile of rubble. It was beautiful. It made me believe that all our dreams could come true if we simply believed in the powers of light and darkness and manifested those powers directly onto the things we care about. Whether San Antonio wins the Finals this year or not, this game proved to me that as long as your team is the real-life depiction of a Disney villain, you are screwed in the long run.

What went right for the Spurs in this game?

Kawhi Leonard assumed his throne and dropped 35 points and 5 steals on the defending NBA chokeians (that’s a new word I made up for teams that blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, btw), LaMarcus Aldridge dropped another cool 26, and Jonathon Simmons – bless his heart – made us all think this was going to be the year he became a legit bench threat with a 20 point effort and an epic chasedown block on Steph Curry.

The Warriors starters were great, as expected, but their bench was HORRENDOUS. Ian Clark led the bench with 5 points. Nobody on the team had a positive +/-. Zaza Pachulia (who I hate) had more turnovers than shot attempts.

It wasn’t meant to be for Golden State on that fine October night, and while one could argue that it was their first meaningful game with Durant and they still had to learn how to play together, well… actually no you can’t make that argument because that starting unit combined for 84 points while the bench scored 16 points.

And if you really wanted to make that argument, I think San Antonio’s case for potentially laying an egg is even stronger. The Spurs were without Duncan for the first time in 19 years. They replaced him with Pau Gasol, who isn’t nearly as young nor athletically gifted as Kevin Durant, and San Antonio steamrolled the Warriors.

If we learned anything that night, it’s this: The Warriors need SOMETHING from their 5-12 guys – Zaza is included here because, honestly, he is not good enough to start for this team, c’mon – or they aren’t making a third straight trip to the Finals. Strength in Numbers? Not this season.

GAME TWO
Warriors at Spurs, March 11, 2017
Spurs win 107-85

Danny Green was the only starter for either team that played in this game. Again, Zaza doesn’t count. Anyway, that tells you almost everything you need to know about this game. Oh, get this! JaVale McGee only played five minutes in this one! In a game where literally only ten people on his team were dressed he only got five minutes.

What did we learn?

Uh… that if somehow every starter from both teams dies before they play next, that lack of bench depth we already knew about is going to be bad news for Golden State. Also, it’s going to be a really shitty and somber playoff series. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. It was also a good reminder that San Antonio has a good bench. One of the best benches.

GAME THREE
Warriors at Spurs, March 29, 2017
Warriors win 110-98

This started as the kind of game where I thought I’d be excited to see Davis Bertans and Kyle Anderson getting fourth quarter minutes against a quality opponent. But by the time the fourth quarter came around and I noticed that Anderson and Bertans were on the court, all I could do was scream and writhe in pain until my girlfriend dragged me out of the bar and into a cab.

This one hurt. Not only would a Spurs win have put the 1-seed firmly within grasp, but San Antonio raced out to a 15-0 lead and ended up losing by 12 to a team that was missing Durant. Ouch. And the Spurs weren’t missing anyone besides Dejounte Murray who wouldn’t have seen anything but garbage time if he were healthy.

The contest was pretty much our collective worst nightmare, and a microcosm of the season. The Spurs have looked like the hottest team on Earth several times this year, including versus Cleveland and opening night vs. these same Warriors (well, minus Durant).

At other times, the Spurs have looked like Brooklyn would give them a run for their money. Sometime we get both versions of San Antonio, and the shitty version sticks around for a lot longer than we’d hope for.

What did we learn?

JaVale McGee still has an atrocious rattail. But in actual basketball…

When the Spurs are operating at optimum efficiency, they can hang with and beat anyone. They led 33-17 at the end of the first quarter, and it wasn’t because they were relying on Leonard to do everything. Yes, the Spurs’ star had 8 points in the first quarter, putting him on pace for another 30 pt game, but contributions from Aldridge and Green helped them get out to their strong start.

As the game wore on, the Warriors figured out to mostly remove Kawhi from the equation, and Kawhi was eventually forced to try and take things on himself despite constant double-teams. It, obviously, didn’t work out.

Tony Parker (who went scoreless) and Manu Ginobili (who missed a lot) both looked very much their age against the younger, quicker Warriors, and neither Patty Mills nor Anderson instilled much confidence with their games either.

Remember that time I talked up San Antonio’s bench to be the best thing since the invention of the 3 point line? Bleh.

That’s all just a really long way to say that if the Spurs match up with Golden State in the playoffs, Kawhi is either going to have to become basketball Jesus, or the rest of the team is going to have to hold up their end of the bargain.

Oh, and playing some defense would be nice too. Sheesh.

Messed Around And Still Got The Win

Season 50, Game 76
San Antonio 109, Utah 103
59-17, 2nd in the West

This was a really good win.

Utah is a good – possibly great – team. They are fighting for their playoff positioning, and it behooves them to win every possible game. They wanted to win this.

San Antonio was resting six players, including two starters and three of the top four bench players. The team is locked into their seed, and are playing more for experimentation and preparedness than wins at this point. But even with the end of the bench doing most of the heavy lifting, the Spurs still got the win, building 20-point leads in each half and holding off the inevitable Jazz comeback.

Motivation is an often overlooked aspect of unique wins and losses. On any given night, the team that ‘wants it more’ can often be favored to win. Wanting it more and playing most of your top of the rotation players should usually mean a win. Instead, the Spurs just Spurs-ed right along and got the win anyway, all while giving huge playing time to players like Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes, Dewayne Dedmon, Jonathon Simmons, and Kyle Anderson.

Anderson played very well. I’ve always been a fan, partly because he’s probably about as athletic as you or me, so must use intelligence and cunning to keep his place in the league. It’s obvious that Kyle Anderson is a very smart player, and I like to see him slowly figure it out. He was a team-best +24 in a game won by 6.

Simmons got out of the dog house and made the most of his opportunity. His play is definitely less consistent than Kyle’s (which is likely why Kyle has usurped his rotation spot), but at his athletic best, there’s nobody like Simmons on the roster. The team will need that at least once these playoffs.

Forbes and Bertans both got big minutes and both acquitted themselves win. I really like both of these players. While it’s likely too late for either to have any sort of playoff impact, they are nice pieces building for the future.

The best sight of the night, however, was Tony Parker. He looked spry and fresh, and played smart and aggressive. This is what makes this season so frustrating: when we see these games he’s still capable of, we understand just how good this team can be. But we can no longer rely on it night to night. Hell, I’m not even sure we can rely on it more than one game out of four. That won’t cut it in the playoffs.

But if he really can get his legs and get a bit healthy, we could be a formidable team come playoffs.

If, if, if. The story of Parker’s season.

The Spurs go for win number 60 at home against Memphis on Tuesday night. This is also our likely first round opponent, so a win would be good psychologically, too.

Go Spurs Go.

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