I don't get the Spurs, I really don't. I mean, doesn't the old adage say that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse? Don't successful teams re-tool in the off-season? This is the fifth season that the Spurs have been a three-man team. The Spurs are Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and who cares. Alright, that's unfair to Bruce Bowen, but he's been there the whole time, so they're still not changing. And Bowen is 35 now. Isn't that a little oldish for your stopper? So why are they still the best team in the NBA?
I mean, they don't actually win every title, but they've won a few, and they're in the hunt every time. And here they are, with the second best record in the NBA, behind only unconscious Utah. Their fourth leading scorer is Brent Barry. Former Clipper Brent effing Barry! Brent Barry is the fourth leading scorer on Clippers teams that go 17-65; not on title-contenders... at the age of 34!
The realities of small market San Antonio mean that the Spurs front office must keep the payroll at a reasonable level. As 'the other guys' get more experience, and therefore get more expensive, GM RC Buford just replaces them with cheap young guys (Francisco Elson, Matt Bonner, Jackie Butler). Or cheap foreign guys (Fabricio Oberto, Beno Udrih). Or sometimes old guys who are willing to chase a ring for a minimal salary (Michael Finley, Robert Horry). Believe it or not, Rasho Nesterovich and Brent Barry are the most expensive free agents the Spurs have signed this decade. And somehow Gregg Popovich just makes it work.
Of course, they have managed to get better (or at least stay at the top), mainly because Tony Parker has gotten better. He's only 24, and yet this is his sixth year in the league. He has started 407 out of 412 career games for the Spurs, since he was 19. Who says it's hard for a young guy to play the point in the NBA, Shaun? After averaging a career best 18 points per game on insane-for-a-point guard 54.8% shooting last year, he's averaging over 19 this year, while shooting a still damn good 52%. His ability to finish at the rim for a 6'2" dude is nothing short of incroyable.
And then there's this kid Duncan. He's pretty good too. After averaging career worsts in scoring (18.6) and FG% (48.4%) while playing through nagging injuries last season, Timmy has bounced back so far this season with 22.1 points and a Parker-esque 54.7% shooting. Seems like he's feeling better.
The third member of the holy trinity of the Alamo is Manu Ginobili. Manu returned from a back contusion (aka a boo-boo) a couple of games ago and played 16 and 20 minutes in Spurs blow-out wins. Ginobili is the only player in the league who attacks the basket more relentlessly than Corey Maggette, but unlike Corey, Manu manages to do it with some semblance of control.
Bowen remains San Antonio's defensive stopper, though at 35, he's slowed at least a step. Page 2's Bill Simmons was not kind when he made Bruce number one on his list of "SIX GUYS WHO LOOK SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE THAN THEY DID LAST SEASON"
Stick a fork in him. This is a significant problem for the Spurs, by the way -- they don't have anyone to cover the Gilbert Arenas and Corey Maggettes of the world right now. Why wouldn't they deal Brent Barry (his contract expires in 2008) and Eric Williams (his contract expires in 2007) and take the Completely Insane Stephen Jackson off Indy's hands? They already won one title with him, right?
How cute that Simmons still thought opponents were going to have to cover Corey. Little did he know that MDSr would take care of that problem for the rest of the NBA for most of every game. It is interesting to note that the Clippers don't really have an obvious guy for Bowen to shut down. This is one case where scoring balance, instead of a first tier scoring threat, is an advantage to the Clippers. Bowen can't guard Brand - so who does the stopper stop?
The fifth starter is Manu's Argentina teammate, Fabricio Oberto, the best player in the history of the planet named Fabricio. Oberto is shooting 59.6% on the season, if you can believe that. If you're keeping score at home that makes three Spurs' starters shooting over 50% (sometimes a lot over). All this hot shooting means that the Spurs shoot 46.9% as a team, 6th best in the NBA.
They also shoot the three well, and often. Led by Barry's ridiculous 50.7% (5th in the NBA) and Bowen's 45.8 (15th), the Spurs shoot a league-best 39.5%. This is a major difference between these two teams. Both teams play good team defense, and both like to play inside out on offense, running sets through post players Duncan and Brand. But Duncan kicks the ball out to deep threats, more often than not standing behind the three point line, while Brand kicks it to mid-range jump shooters. The Clippers are last in the league in three pointers attempted and three pointers made, and 26th in percentage (30.3%).
So how do we beat these guys? Not easily. The good news is that the matchups are not unfavorable. QRoss' highest minutes played this season are 48 against the Sixers, 37 against Miami and 36 against the Hornets. Notice a pattern? He was guarding Iverson, Wade and Paul in those three games. MDSr will put Ross on Parker, and hope he can keep the future Monsieur Longoria out of the lane. One thing you have to say about the Clippers new starting lineup - Ross, Livingston and Mobley are terrific perimeter defenders. They can switch on the perimeter and not worry about getting hurt. But the bad news is that the help defense that has been a staple of the Dunleavy Clippers can really backfire when a team takes and makes threes.
On the other end, Oberto should not be able to guard either Brand or Kaman. Should not. But here's what will probably happen. Duncan will have to battle Brand - he'll do a job, and it's a minor victory for the Clippers just to force him to work hard on that end. Oberto will take Kaman, and will undoubtedly bait him into early foul trouble with a series of feints and flops perfected in the Spanish league. Damn Argentines! If Kaman can manage to stay on the floor and dominate the Spurs second-rate centers the way he should, it will bode well for the Clippers.
In order to win this game, or the re-match in LA, several things will need to happen:
- Brand will have to have a big game (and Kaman will have to not suck)
- At least one other Clipper will have to have a big game
- Ross et al will have to keep Parker from having a big game
- The Clippers can't get destroyed from beyond the arc
Not an easy task. But not impossible.