Rants and Raves: Spurs aren’t old news

The Spurs’ 103-94 win over the Bulls on Tuesday night offered solid grounds for both rants and raves.

In the first half, San Antonio simply was overwhelmed by Chicago’s hustle, enthusiasm and speed. Plus, the Spurs’ perimeter shooting was so bad that the Bulls’ defenders were able to crowd the paint and limit the Spurs’ layups.

Tim Duncan looked old and in the way. Manu Ginobili missed several makeable shots. And Tony Parker, fresh off news of his impending divorce with Eva Longoria, was unable to prevent Derrick Rose from taking (and making) whatever shots he so desired.

At the intermission, the Bulls led 47-37, and my rantings were righteous.

However, Gregg Popovich and his staff made several timely adjustments in the locker room.

They started Matt Bonner instead of DeJuan Blair, and when the Red Rocket quickly dropped a pair of treys, the Bulls’ defense was stretched to the limit. Now there was space for Duncan to operate in the low post. And it was Duncan’s sudden stretch of youthful ebullience that keyed the Spurs’ dramatic comeback and their eighth straight win.

Ginobili also benefited from the widened driving lanes, while Parker routinely zipped past Rose and wriggled past late-arriving helpers for layups.

The Spurs’ defense likewise became more active, doubling Rose on sideline screen/rolls and rotating to prevent the Bulls from executing the reversal passes that had been so effective. With their attack zone cut in half, Chicago’s offense was jammed and vulnerable to turnovers.

As a result, the Spurs outscored the visitors 37-12 in the third quarter, equaling their production for the entire first half.

A hearty rave for the Spurs for demonstrating their versatility, their discipline and their resourcefulness. And for proving that graybeards are often more valuable than young legs.

RANTS

Here’s what LeBron James did in the waning minutes of last week’s loss to Boston when the elderly Celtics were visibly tiring and the game was suddenly up for grabs.

• Missed two critical free throws.

• Missed two highly makeable layups.

• Missed a pair of treys.

Actually, one of these errant 3-pointers was arguably the worst shot of the season. From the left baseline, LeBron’s shot hit the side of the backboard. Not an easy accomplishment, but surely an embarrassing one that emphasized James’ extremely erratic stroke.

Despite his spectacular failures in the clutch, LBJ scanned the postgame stat sheet and remarked that his 44 minutes of daylight were “too much."

So, this 26-year-old strongman, who needed to dig a little deeper into his considerable bag of skills in order for his team to win a critical game, essentially was putting the onus on Erik Spoelstra and shunning any personal responsibility.

Call me a LeBron hater if that makes you feel better.

Meanwhile, Pat Riley had better sign Erick Dampier in a New York minute.

Blake Griffin is strong and competitive. However, his banked jumpers all threaten to crack the backboard. And his offensive moves are surprisingly robotic.

The Toronto Raptors are by far the most boring team in the league. And Andrea Bargnani is the most inept-rebounding center in recent memory. A 7-foot blind man could stand in the paint with his hands stretched and come up with more rebounds than this guy. The only beneficiary here is Reggie Evans, whose rebounding prowess guarantees him beaucoup playing time.

Under Mike D’Antoni’s guidance, the Knicks habitually look for shortcuts on offense, firing 3-pointers at every conceivable opportunity. If there were a 4-point line a few steps farther from the rim, then the shoot-‘em-up Knicks would be even quicker on the draw.

Amar’e Stoudemire reminds me of Patrick Ewing: scoring lots of points, but precious few in clutch situations — as evidenced by Stoudemire’s misfiring on several critical free throws to ensure recent losses to Golden State, Philadelphia and Denver.

There are reasons why the Suns would be willing to trade Steve Nash. He’ll soon be 37 years old and he’s too nice a guy to waste his declining seasons with such a mediocre team. Also, Goran Dragic is by far a less expensive alternative.

However, it becomes increasingly obvious that Dragic remains more of a scoring guard than a playmaker. Unless Phoenix can deal Nash for a young, authentic point guard, the franchise would be better off standing pat and postponing its necessary rebuilding until the offseason.

RAVES

The Timberwolves finally have a hopeful future. Yes, they’re a few players short — mainly a steady point guard who can defend, a center who’s less erratic than Darko Milicic, and another wing scorer or two who can create their own shots. But the ingredients are there — specifically Kevin Love and Michael Beasley.

In fact, Beasley easily could evolve into a dreadnaught go-to scorer if he can develop the awareness that will improve his poor decision-making. The team’s inexperience is most evident in its routine failure to execute on both ends of the court in end-of-game situations, with Beasley’s game-winning jumper Wednesday against the Clippers a notable exception.

But they always compete and are getting increasingly comfortable with Kurt Rambis’ version of the triangle offense. Youth is both the T-Wolves’ biggest plus and biggest minus.

Richard Jefferson’s successful adaptation to the Spurs’ halfcourt offense makes San Antonio a legitimate choice to face off against (but lose to) the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

Jerry Sloan is slowly but surely domesticating Al Jefferson’s wildly selfish game. Thus far, AJ’s assists are up (1.5 per game as against 1.2 for his career) and his turnovers are down (1.4 versus 1.6 lifetime). Most significantly, in Utah’s recent win over Atlanta, Jefferson’s line included six dimes and zero mishandles!

If Jefferson continues to increase his on-court IQ, the Jazz could evolve into an extremely dangerous team. But not good enough to supplant the Lakers.