Playoff Race

Every so often — maybe once every two months now — Manu Ginobili produces a game that awes the crowd and makes you think “We couldn’t have won without him. He still has it.” Then sometime in the playoffs he produces a dud, and you think “He’s done.”

This is a little ritual Manu and we Spurs followers have played for a decade or so now. He’ll even sneak one of each of those games in the playoffs — against Miami in Game 5 if the 2013 finals, then the awful games in 6/7, the incredible game against Memphis, the awful games against Memphis, the great game against Houston, etc — and the other night against New Orleans was yet another example.

I tell myself to remember these games so that I do not throw my remote in the playoffs, wondering why we cannot get a guy in his early 20s instead of his late 30s to play backup SG for this team. Against the Pelicans, in a must-win game, he was incredible.

These past weeks have been odd for we Spurs fans. I cannot imagine what it is like for the teens and tweens who have known nothing but years of plenty from this team. I came of Spurs fan age when D-Rob was called a choke artist and the Spurs would lose to the Jazz every year. I was a kid when the Spurs last missed the playoffs but I distinctly remember looking at my Sports Illustrated for Kids and thinking that just maybe we could get Tim Duncan.

It was then that my dad wised me up to the ways of tanking. “It is not so bad if the Spurs lose,” he said, “because we get a better draft pick.” That blew my mind. Pointing to my SI for Kids article, I asked “Like this guy?” He chuckled. “No, there’s no chance of that happening. He’s too good. The Spurs won’t get the first pick.”

I held out hope, as kids do. The rest is legend, of course.

That Spurs team was very strange. It had Dominique Wilkins on the roster wearing 21. Yes, you can say the Spurs have had a HOF at that number since 1996. Monty Williams was also on that squad. But almost no one remembers it.

This Spurs team reminds me of that one, in that it is a collection of guys that are seemingly good but are clearly inferior to the rest of the league. Like then, we are waiting on the franchise player to return from a nagging injury (Dave Robinson, Kawhi Leonard). Like then, we might not make the playoffs.

Unlike then, members of this team and this coaching staff have NBA titles to their name and a better than average shot at making the postseason.

Whatever. I think this season is good for the soul. When you eat a steak dinner every night you do not appreciate it the way you do after eating Ramen for four years. You see what I mean.

Here’s to the playoff chase. In the mean time I have been asking my friends who are fans of the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets what they normally do when their squads do not play past April.


On Saturday Slow-Mo pump-faked Kevin Durant out of the picture frame and got a lay in. It was a clever, savvy move from a guy that is more famous for his relative lack of athleticism. Kyle Anderson is famously slow, and yet is crafty enough to get a bucket in the NBA against some of the best defenders in the league.

Last night he pump-faked a Jazz defender and stepped through only to lose control of the ball and then kind of heave it at the rim. The ref saw a foul some place and rewarded him with two free throws. On the next possession, noted old person Manu Ginobili tried a step-back-into-pump-fake that was swallowed up by the Jazz defender. He handed the ball to Kyle and Kyle tried a pump-fake and the Utah-an did not flinch.

The jig, as it were, is up.

It will not break the internet to know that the really good NBA players — the ones with commercials and the shoe deals and the banners hanging in the rafters — are the ones that can get their own shot against very capable, very smart and savvy defenders.

Something like ten years ago, Manu Ginobili could get off something better than he attempted last night. In that time, a Kyle Anderson type of guy would be waiting to capitalize on his primary defender’s split attention instead of his sole focus.

This is the problem with an injured team. Kawhi will get the biggest bucks because he can get his own shot and stop guys from getting theirs. Aldridge got a four year deal because — despite his attitude and playoff performance — he can get buckets.

If and when everyone is ready and healthy to make a final playoff push, it will be extremely difficult. For all the jokes everyone had about the Cavs, the Spurs are not really in a much better position. The Cavs are hoping to get things together in time to stave off a newly rejuvenated Toronto and a tough Boston to get another shot at the Cavs.

The Spurs are hoping everyone is back and ready enough to throw off the offensive  machine that is the Rockets to prepare for the immovable object that is the Warriors.

Unlike the Cavs, however, the Spurs do get some benefit from all this. Kyle Anderson is getting huge minutes and prime opportunity to add to his crafty skill set (a la Diaw, even though Boris was a better athlete in his prime) for when it is most useful — in the playoffs against a second unit.

Last night was frustrating but there is little that can be done with so many injuries. This can be read on repeat after every shaky possession and every shaky performance.

Hurry Kawhi, you are our only hope.


The big news from ESPN was that there is ‘discord’ in the Spurs-Kawhi relationship after Leonard went back to his indefinite “recovery” mode. The Spurs are notoriously tight-lipped about these things and from all indications there is nothing more to this than frustration.

Still, the three names on the report — Adrian Wojnarowski, Michael C. Wright, Zach Lowe — are well-sourced, well-respected guys and they say there is ‘discord’. On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Ramona Shelbourne asked Wright about that word ‘discord’.

For his part, Wright said it had more to do with ‘frustration’ surrounding the healing of the injury. He hinted that the issue is Leonard’s lack of communication is part of the problem, and the lack of progress after the Spurs’ reliance on their tendon experts.

The local morning radio guy Mike Taylor has taken this and run with the thinking that Kawhi is actually upset about LaMarcus Aldridge getting this renewed love. Personally, I can see how that would be an issue Kahwi weren’t so withdrawn from the spotlight.

After all, Kawhi can adapt his game to LMA much easier than LMA can to Kawhi — this has been demonstrated over the last two seasons.

What does ‘discord’ mean? That is the real question here. It was disappointing to hear Mike Wright flail in his answer which lends me to think that the real author of the piece was Adrian Wojnarowski with help from Zach Lowe. Last season Lowe first reported the rumblings that the Spurs and Aldridge had issues and he was exactly right.

RC Buford was quoted in the report saying there was nothing to the ‘discord’:

“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford said. “From Day 1 all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury.”

Buford described a frustrating process of rehabilitation for what has been an elusive solution to an injury.

“This has been difficult for everyone,” Buford told ESPN. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple, and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”

Wow said in a video report that the source used words like “disconnect, and distance” when talking about the process. That’s more vague hints.

The paper’s Jabari Young reported Kawhi’s uncle said there was “nothing to the report”.

There is no doubt that there is frustration on both sides. If it is all the frustration with the injury? That will be resolved once Leonard is back on the court and playing like his MVP-candidate self.

If the issue is indeed the coddling of LaMarcus Aldridge? Well that is a deeper issue that will be interesting. Kawhi Leonard is the franchise guy here, no matter what the Spurs say and do for Aldridge. He is younger, better, and has a higher ceiling.

None of that is to say that Aldridge is bad or not good and that this all would not be an issue if Aldridge were not so difficult to manage. Kawhi cannot win a title by himself. He needs Aldridge happy and if there is an issue Kahwi needs to squash it since his legacy can take the biggest hit.

The secret ingredient to the Warriors is that they have three or four franchise players and mix them together smoothly. Look at the Cavs and their clown show for an example of bad form.

The Spurs have been pretty good at pruning weeds in the organization. From Dennis Rodman to Captain Jack (making room for Kawhi). This week we saw Tony Parker benched for Dejounte Murray in a passing of the torch.

Things will be fine as soon as that quad heals.

Pop on Patty

Via Jeff Garcia’s Spurs Zone blog:

What most fans don’t understand is the impact a player has on a basketball game outside of the statistical categories such as points per game average or true field goal percentage.
It is the intangibles like leadership, grit and instinct that separates an average NBA player from a successful one.

He goes on to quote Pop from the ESPN article. I do not necessarily agree with Jeff here. What are “intangible” to us are measured in the proprietary analytics the Spurs have. They no doubt have numbers that tell them how valuable Patty Mills has been. They paid him in the offseason and while a good number of national pundits do not see the value, they know the Spurs do.

This is why we get the annual “Spurs are going to Spurs” knee-jerk analysis. We do not need him to score 15 a night, as for some reason Manu is anti-aging and putting on an every-other-night show, but we do need someone to competently run the other positions and Mills is doing just that.

The Frustration of Being Good

Everyone from Pat Riley to Steve Kerr has expounded publicly about the difficulties of sustaining success. After a while, the primary motivator — winning — is not enough. For a team that has achieved the highest levels of this game — the current Warriors squad — there is even less motivation to do the same.

This is partly because — as Nick Saban says(!) — sustained greatness is unnatural. People are biologically inclined to find the least amount of effort to achieve their goals. Doing just enough is normal. Doing beyond what is required is unnatural.

As a fan of the Spurs, this is evident in the excitement levels for a regular season wins. Apparently Spurs fans need a Whataburger in the arena to get hyped to go to the game. This isn’t a knock, it is just a fact. Spurs fans have seen the most regular season wins in the NBA over the last 20+ seasons. They have seen the most Finals appearances, the most titles, and have seen at least two hall-of-famers and probably one other (Manu).

When you see so much greatness you forget that it is actually unnatural. The average NBA city does not see this level of achievement.

I was thinking about this last night as I did not have frustration when the Spurs dropped a close game to the Sixers with a shortened squad. I know, from experience, that this is nothing to get too high or low about. Watching the Other Spurs battle the Sixers is good for the program in the long-term and will benefit everyone in the Playoffs. This has been the story for decades now and those mid-season losses to an East team on the second night of a back-to-back have never been important beyond what they were.

Because Kawhi has been injured (and Tony too, but really Kawhi) and slowly making a comeback, the normal regular season goals have been forgotten: Getting a 1 seed and winning individual trophies. Unless Leonard scores 50/game from here on in, there is no MVP award for him this season. Unless the Spurs go undefeated from here on in, there is no number one seed to enjoy.

The Spurs will finish 3rd in the conference and have to meet up with the Rockets or the Warriors in the second round. This was always going to be the case, and the long-term goal of preparing the squad for that series is happening now. We’ve seen it all before and so it is hard to be nonplussed about the journey to that spot.

Surviving Portland

The LaMarcus show continues.

This has been the perfect season to command the spotlight with Kawhi out of commission and slowly working his way back to form. Leonard dominated proceedings last year and all but regulated the rest of the Spurs roster to Who Are They status.

LMA was famously upset by this and it turns out that was not unreasonable. He still had something left in his game and has shown himself to be the guy that SA paid for: the number 1 guy.

Unfortunately, he is not an MVP-level guy, but then again who thought he would be that?

This is about winning titles, even if the Spurs are no longer front-runners for that spot these last few Warriors-heavy years. To that end, winning regular season games while everyone sits down is imperative. Tonight, LMA did the things necessary to win. This was the typical Spurs effort involving lots of contributions that will be forgotten when the postseasons begins but upon whose foundation the postseason runs begin.

LMA blocked one of the final tying attempts and that sealed the win. It will not win him the MVP but it is what we want him to do.

The Spurs are now 22-10 and four games behind the league-leading Rockets.

LaMarcus 41

When LaMarcus Aldridge dominates proceedings as he did against Memphis I have to refrain from saying “Where was this against Memphis in the playoffs?”

The answer is that this is not the same LMA for a lot for reasons and this is definitely not the same Grizzlies squad that competed hard for six games.

Pop called him an All-Star in all phases of the game and he is right. Even when LMA had been playing in the shadow of Kawhi’s Klaw, he was playing good, underrated defense.

My — and likely your — frustrations with his postseason play remain but it is important to put those into context. Both OKC and GSW featured at least two current, very recent past, or very recent future MVP players.

Still, LMA did not impress in every game against the Grizzlies and only in one or two games against Houston. Watching him do that against the same team makes me feel better even if it isn’t proof of much of anything.

Clipper Cure All

Did San Antonio learn so this from Golden State and decide to turn it on in the third quarter?

Aldridge is steady with his 20+ ppg, and is vaguely looking like Timmy on the score sheet. Pay tossed in some threes but Rudy Gay and Dejounte Murray are battling for the Most Fun Spur to watch.

Rudy Gay can score and that is great fun to watch. He showed some extra range was fun but the he followed that with a heat check. For we playoff-minded folks, the Rudy Gay they gets into pass lanes and uses length to bother teams is the one that will change a series.

LMA and Pau were not the most highly rated defensive players coming into San Antonio yet have held their own (in spots, in Pau’s case).

As Captain Jack once said, “The Spurs staff helps you be a great defender” and all that is needed is mental and physical effort.

So far, everyone looks about where they need to be. Now that the IG rumormongering is that the Klaw will be returning next week, things are looking up.

Brace yourselves, Kawhi is coming.

Spurs up 19, lose by 20

Stop me if you have heard this before: The Spurs jumped all over the Warriors, couldn’t sustain that, get blown out.

Well, the only new thing is possibly the complete blow out but it is only a variation on the Warriors-win-going-away theme.

Yay for variety.

The Spurs started well in the Aldridge-centered offense without Tony and Kawhi and we all got ready to recite our Spurs-praise book.

Then came three straight — now four straight — losses in which the team looks like it is clearly second-tier. Maybe third.

The Magic are on something strange, the Pacers are battling, and the Celtics in Boston are always tough. Those are not necessarily bad losses considering everything but the performances were clearly sub-par.

Losing to the Warriors — even a version trying to find motivation — is understandable also.

While I enjoy watching LaMarcus dominate inside, as this new 2017 one is, but it is not enough without Leonard and that is clear.

Patty Mills is not having a good season and right now the Spurs do not have much else to boost them.

Dejounte Murray: Leader?

Last night Murray pushed Pop away and took it upon himself to calm down Face Of The Franchise (?) LaMarcus Aldridge after the altercation with Ibaka.

Also? He contributed 15 rebounds and 16 points. Murray has long been a believer in himself and so this little show of bold leadership is unsurprising even if it is early in his career.

He wants the starting gig, and the Spurs would be poorer if he did not. For some guys — ahem FoTF LMA — the concern is that the moment is too big for them. Murray has never struck me as that kind of player.

No the question with him is if his work ethic and skill set can match his self-confidence. His work this summer and his early mentor-ship under Jamal Crawford means that he knows what is required and has honed that skillset.

He did get owned by Patrick Beverly in the playoffs but held his own against the Rockets’ guard in the next game. This minor thing with LMA is exactly what Pop was looking for last year. Kahwi is not going to do this kind of thing, because he is busy doing everything else. Dave had Avery. TD had Manu. Kawhi and LaMarcus can have . . Murray?

Spurs are 3-0 and took care of the Raptors last night.