Everybody's making noise about the Miami Heat and their epic winning streak, now standing at 16 games. Reality check: the Heat needed to win 16 games in a row to get within shouting distance of the team with the actual best record in the league, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs it at 48-14, 25-3 at home as the Portland Trail Blazers come calling in a 5:30 p.m. Pacific game televised on CSNNW.
The big news for San Antonio has been Tony Parker's ankle injury. He'll not play in this game. Then again he didn't play in the Spurs' previous two outings either and they won both handily, defeating Chicago and Detroit.
Reserve point guard Gary Neal has been nursing an Achilles injury and has only played once in the last six games.
But hey, this is San Antonio. Your team is the fancy battery-powered robot you got for Christmas. Ten seconds outside, something snaps off, and it doesn't work the same anymore. San Antonio is the kid next door with his old-fashioned Lego set. You were laughing on December 25th, but who's still playing now? Every time something breaks, he just snaps in a replacement part and keeps on building.
In this case the Spurs are down their two lead point guards. So they grab Corey Joseph, Patty Mills, and a little bit of Manu Ginobili and keep right on cruising. Double-double from Tim Duncan, another from Tiago Splitter...voila! It's a win.
Small forward Kawhi Leonard, now in his second season, is San Antonio's version of Nicolas Batum. He's got star potential but whether or not he becomes a lead player, he's a bloody efficient scorer with three-point range and nice defense. Leonard is the brighter prospect of the two in most ways...almost not fair.
Shooting guard Danny Green is a great three-point marksman. Small forward Stephen Jackson's offense has deserted him but he's still an experienced utility back-up. Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner man the reserve big spots.
All of these players are flawed in some way but the Spurs do a masterful job of covering for the weaknesses of their teammates...maybe better than any team in the modern era. One Lego you can toss around. A whole bunch snapped together make a wall.
That wall is pretty solid this year too. The Spurs have the 3rd best defensive efficiency in the league. (Memo to the Lakers: That's the difference between fielding the best team in the league and a team full of offensive superstars who can't get their acts together.) They'll give you some paint points--lacking bulk and athleticism in the lane--and you can score on the break. But you'd better outrun them because once you're going against their halfcourt defense they're going to out-think, out-work, and out-technique you. It's like chess. You already know who's going to win 9 moves out. They post amazing defensive percentages inside and even better out. They don't foul. Their defensive rebounding is good. They force turnovers. You're walking uphill the moment you cross the logo.
The Spurs are also 5th in the league in offensive efficiency. They emphasize the paint but they can also score on the run. Their shooting percentages are impeccable: 2nd in overall percentage, 4th in three-point percentage. They don't get the mad free-throw love that some other top teams do [sidelong glance back at L.A. here] but they still manage the 4th best scoring average in the league.
Despite all this, the Blazers usually have good showings against the Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge likes to play this team. The Spurs are vulnerable to athletic frontcourts bullying their more refined bigs. Portland doesn't exactly fit that bill but they can fake it sometimes. Raw athleticism can confound San Antonio. They're the worst offensive rebounding team in the league because they don't care about that aspect of the game. Yet they're also 20th in fast break points allowed. There's wiggle room in that gap. If you can blitz them--not just on the break but turning every possession into a hard-hitting frenzy--they can be sacked. Let them stay comfortable in the pocket, however, and those percentages, that defense, the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, the poise and experience, those veteran winners...all of it will show and you'll be walking home with another loss stapled to your forehead.
Pounding The Rock will give you the inside scoop on San Antonio.