Spurs back on top of NBA with scorching start
Tony Parker's private life has been splashed across tabloids after splitting from his TV star wife. Tim Duncan is playing the fewest minutes of his career and coach Gregg Popovich's big summer addition can't find his way off the bench yet.
Yet here are the San Antonio Spurs, back atop the NBA.
''The Lakers are the back-to-back champions. The Celtics are the Eastern Conference champions. We got to respect them,'' Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. ''We're just looking at them, trying to learn and be as good as them.''
Through the first month, no one has been good as the Spurs.
Their NBA-best record of 12-1 is the best start in franchise history, surpassing even how they began their four championship seasons. Their 11-game winning streak is their longest in nearly three years, and they can stretch it to a dozen Wednesday at Minnesota.
They've won while Parker and Ginobili - arguably the best backcourt in the West so far - have turned Duncan into the team's fourth-leading scorer. They've won without needing Tiago Splitter, their heralded new 7-footer who has barely cracked the rotation.
After winning 50 games last season and needing a late surge just to secure the No. 7 playoff seed - the lowest of the Duncan era - the Spurs didn't make any big summer adjustments. Duncan merely got older, swingman Richard Jefferson worked harder and the front office finally signed Splitter, their 2007 first-round pick from Brazil who had played several years in Spain.
Parker didn't play overseas to recover from a slew of injuries. Ginobili rested, too. Signing both to extensions are the biggest moves the Spurs have made in the last eight months.
So far, that seems to be all they needed.
''They've always been real good. But one of the three main guys have been hurt a lot the last three years, and that's not the case anymore,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said before Orlando lost to San Antonio on Monday night. ''We're seeing them at their best.''
Ginobili is averaging a career-high 20.4 points per game, a resurgence for the 33-year-old who was so bothered by ankle problems the last two years that the Spurs waited until the end of last season to extend a new deal. He and Parker have taken over while Duncan's numbers have plummeted to 13.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, putting him on pace to not average a double-double for the first time.
He's done so with a career-low 29.1 minutes per game.
''Timmy's taking a little bit of the back seat so we can save him for the playoffs,'' Parker said.
Parker is on a pace for perhaps his best season in his 10 years in the NBA, averaging 19.5 points and a career-best 7.8 assists. He's had no drop-off since his split from ''Desperate Housewives'' star Eva Longoria, who filed for divorce in Los Angeles last week after three years of marriage.
Parker, 28, hasn't spoken about the breakup aside from a few, clipped statements to a horde of reporters outside the Spurs' locker room a week ago.
Jefferson, who broke off an engagement with his fiancee before joining the Spurs last season, said people are often too quick to chalk up personal issues as potential distractions.
The job, Jefferson said, is sometimes the only refuge.
''I've gone through personal issues myself. Sometimes basketball, those couple of hours you're on the court, that's the only time you're focused on that,'' Jefferson said. ''I'm not surprised by how well (Tony's) playing. If anything, this is when you become more focused on your game.''
After beating the Magic, Ginobili wouldn't declare the Spurs the best in the league.
''It's too early to tell. What we know we're winning games that last year we would have lost,'' Ginobili said. ''But it's too early. Thirteen games so far. We've got a long way to go.''