Will The Madness Never End?
4 and 6. I did not see that coming this offseason when the Spurs picked up Jefferson, McDyess, Bogans, and Blair. I didn’t see it coming when they slaughtered the Hornets on their opening night. But here we are… 4 and 6. Let’s face it, it’s gonna be an uphill battle this season. The Spurs lost to the Jazz in San Antonio for the first time in over a decade, and they have a three game losing streak to boot. When, you ask, was the last time the Spurs lost three straight? They lost their first three games last season. Here’s hoping that it wakes them up. Of course Joey Crawford was one of the officials last night, so that didn’t help matters a whole lot. One can only hope that he blows an ACL before he gets assigned to a Spurs playoff game this season. I won’t settle for blaming the officiating though, but instead I’ll try to figure out why the eff things are going so horribly wrong right now.
We’ve already seen Duncan miss two games with a sore ankle, and is it realistic to expect him to not miss anymore games this season? He’s played no less than 36 minutes in the past three games – all losses. In fact, the Spurs have not won a game in which Duncan has played more than 23 minutes. This is not a testament to the Spurs being better off without Tim, and anyone who thinks so is clearly an idiot. Feel free to slap them silly on my behalf. The problem is that he is playing these huge minutes because the injuries to Parker and Ginobili necessitate it. I’m worried that he’s going to wear himself, or at least his knee, down for nothing. The Spurs can’t keep playing Duncan 36+ minutes per game and still come up with L’s.
Parker has missed four of the past five games with a sprained ankle suffered in the loss at Portland, and he only played 11 minutes in that game. He also missed nine games in November of last year with an ankle sprain. The Spurs are obviously a much better team when Parker is in the game and running the offense. In lieu of Parker, the Spurs can let Ginobili run things, and quite effectively too I might add as evidenced by his 6.5 assists per game in the back-to-back wins against Toronto and Dallas. However, since he is out as well the offense is stagnating. George Hill is not a bad option at point guard, but he’s been in foul trouble for pretty much all of November. He fouled out of two games, and picked up five fouls in three other games. He has at least five fouls in each of the past four games.
Ginobili has missed one game, left early in two games for separate injuries, and is now expected to be out 7-10 days as he recovers from a strained left groin. The truth is, the Spurs were starting to put it together with their wins against Dallas and Toronto, then Tony came back for the Oklahoma City game and was forced to play more minutes than he probably should have when Ginobili had to sit out the entire 4th quarter.
As it stands now, Parker is still day-to-day, and the Spurs are going to have to live without Ginobili with games against Washington, Milwaukee, Golden State, Houston, and Philly on the horizon. If Parker can’t go, then Hill will need to stay out of foul trouble so that he can run the offense. The next best option is Mason, but it’s not his forte as we saw against Dallas a few nights ago. On the bright side, Mason did seem to be breaking out of his shooting slump against Utah last night (12 points, 5-of-9 from the field, 2-of-5 from downtown).
Who is the starting center? Who is the starting shooting guard? I guess that depends on what day it is, because even without injuries being factored in, I couldn’t tell you from one day to the next who Pop is going to roll with. Keith Bogans or Michael Finley? Theo Ratliff, Antonio McDyess or Matt Bonner? It’s anyone’s guess. Is this taking a toll on the players? How are they supposed to develop any kind of chemistry when Finley is in for six minutes one game and 33 minutes the next? Theo Ratliff doesn’t play for three games, then starts the next. What’s so difficult about starting McDyess at center, Duncan at power forward, Jefferson at small forward, Mason at shooting guard, and George Hill at point guard until Parker gets back? Then you have Ginobili and Hill as your first guards off the bench, and Bogans as your we-need-to-shut-this-guy-down option. Ginobili could also back up RJ at small forward. Then you have Bonner and Blair as your alternate power forward/center. If you just have to bring in Finley, just let him back up RJ – sparingly. The problem is that this isn’t what’s happening. Instead we see strange lineups that result in a stagnant offense, missed defensive assignments, and turnovers. I’m all for developing young players, but there is really no reason I should see Malik Hairston on the floor unless the Spurs are up 20.
As I pointed out previously, the Spurs have only 12 home games from February 1st through the end of the season. Of those 12 home games, six are against Oklahoma City, Phoenix, the Lakers, Cleveland, Houston, and Orlando. The Spurs haven’t won a road game yet, and it’s hard to chalk that up to inuries since the Spurs were at full strength in road losses to the Bulls and Jazz. They are going to need to become a great road team even if they do manage to start holding it down at home.
I think that the chemistry problems and the wins – at home and on the road – will work themselves out if the Spurs are all healthy. The concern is that they won’t ever really get there. They have the personnel, but right now things are not clicking. It seems like every time they get one player back they lose another, and they have to find a way to win consistently in spite of that.
Here are last night’s “highlights”: