It has finally happened. The San Antonio Spurs have given up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. If the playoffs began today they would play seventh-seeded Houston in the first round, which is to say the ship is taking on water.
It is a waste of time to predict how the Spurs will look in the playoffs. Two of their best players, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, are out of the lineup with injuries that aren’t expected to keep them out of the postseason. But that’s just the thing — the Spurs are old enough that injuries are a reasonably predictable factor from here on out. When evaluating the Spurs, now, you have to account for the relatively high probability Tim Duncan (nearly 37), Ginobili (35) or Parker (30) will miss some time with an injury.
The Spurs are better than the Rockets, but of all the potential opponents for San Antonio in the first round (the Warriors, Rockets, Lakers and Jazz), the Rockets are the team that could give an aging team the most trouble. Houston is the youngest team in the NBA, and it leads the NBA in pace. The Rockets also have a center in Omer Asik who has proven during the regular season he can guard Duncan straight up, which keeps the Spurs from doing what they’re so good at doing — exploiting defensive rotations with expert passing and ball movement.
That’s looking ahead a little, but the last time those two teams played, Houston won, and that’s basically how it happened (plus a great game from James Harden).
Don’t read this as a prediction of doom for the Spurs, but think of it this way: The Rockets would rather see San Antonio in the first round than Oklahoma City.
Parker recently re-aggravated an ankle injury, but is expected to be ready in time for playoffs, which begin April 20. On April 1, the Spurs announced Ginobili would miss 3-4 weeks with a hamstring injury, meaning he might not be available for all of a first-round series.
1. So let’s talk about a hypothetical. Let’s say the Spurs get a 2-0 lead on Houston in the first round of the playoffs. And let’s say they are up by 14 with three minutes to go in the third quarter of game three. Would this be a good time to rest Duncan? This is a move coach Gregg Popovich has made a hundred times during the regular season. The Spurs would have the series and the game under control. Not won, but under control, and the ultimate goal is to win more than a first-round series over Houston. On the other hand, you have a chance to bury the Rockets right there. I don’t know.
2. Manu Ginobili should not play in the first round unless he is absolutely healthy or it is absolutely necessary in order to win the series. Hamstring injuries are notoriously fickle and difficult to get rid of. There’s a bit of a delayed gratification idea here.
3. Anybody else feel like Danny Green is sacrificing some personal glory for the sake of the team? I’m not saying the guy is an All-Star, but he’s a 44-percent 3-point shooter who averages 10.6 points per game. Maybe he has found the perfect role on the perfect team, but I get the sense he could be a really solid No. 2 guy on some other teams.
Quotes of the week
“At this point I’m a little bit paranoid with Manu being out and now we find out Boris (Diaw) is out for two to three weeks.”
Coach Gregg Popovich, explaining to reporters why he wouldn’t play Parker against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, despite the point guard’s protests. Diaw has a sore back.
“I have to leave because I think I’m going to puke.”
Forward Matt Bonner, to the San Antonio Express News, reacting to some kind words said about him by his friend and teammate Stephen Jackson. The two have become a rather unlikely pair, recently sharing a birthday party together (they were both born April 5 in different years). “I think the biggest thing with me and Matt is, I love him for who he is and he loves me for who I am,” Jackson told the paper. “There’s so much difference between us, it attracts us to each other.” What’s next
The Spurs have four games left, including road games at the Lakers and Warriors. The home games are against Sacramento and Minnesota, so 3-1 seems like an acceptable outcome, given the Spurs’ injury issues.
Who’s hot, who’s not Who’s hot: Gary Neal
The backup guard has played well in two of the Spurs last three games, scoring 17 against Denver and 14 against the Thunder, although San Antonio lost both those games.
Who’s not: Tiago Splitter
It would be nice if the Spurs could count on Splitter’s scoring a little bit more, with Duncan’s minutes going up and down, but he has just 19 points in the last three games combined.
Tower of power
We’ve discussed all the issues with this team, but believe it or not the Spurs are still tied for the best record in the Western Conference. If Ginobili and Parker come back healthy and in sync, there is no reason the Spurs can’t win the NBA Championship.