Thursday, January 15, 2009

Typical Spurs-Lakers Stuff: Random Thoughts

It's always nice to wake up and read a Johnny Ludden Spurs column. Last night's Lakers-Spurs game was a classic, and the best NBA game this season. Graydon will be along later this afternoon with a proper Notebook, but for the time being he's on a jet plane heading east. In the meantime, I'm here to offer up a delectable assortment of game recap donuts and bagels. Let their sugary sweet bouquet waft through those little hairs in your nose, won't you?
  • It's doubtful he'd admit it, but judging by his body language, scorching first half, and buzzer beating 3rd quarter triple, I suspect Ginobili earmarked last night's game as the end of his rehab stint. Welcome back, Manu. We missed you.
  • Other than RMJ's go ahead shot in the 4th, the play of the game goes to Popovich. At about the 4:30 mark in the 4th, the Lakers cut the lead to 2. Pop called a timeout and drew up a play that gave Ginobili the ball on the inbound, two high screens, and a dribble drive down the left side of the lane. It resulted in an unconverted And-1. It was a simple play, but it allowed the Spurs to stem the tide of a Lakers run that threatened to up end the game. As usual, Popovich's in-game adjustments and work in the timeout were masterful.
  • The Spurs played last night's game with basically one swing player: Michael Finley. Ime Udoka didn't make it off the bench and Bruce Bowen logged a mere 6 minutes. The Spurs used a trio of Hill, Mason, Ginobili at one point. In the '08 Western Conference Finals, Kobe Bryant averaged 29.2 points on 53% shooting. Nothing had changed last night. It looks as if Popovich has decided that Bowen can't slow Bryant, so he might as well put his team in a better position to trade baskets. In my season preview, I noted that the Spurs needed another rotation big and a wing who could score. That remains the case. Great win, but their roster needs attention.
  • Mason has marbles too. After hitting a daggers three that would have been the game winning play, Bryant drew attention to the fact that he had elephantitic testes. Mason returned the favor, hitting his third game winning shot of the season. Swing low sweet chariot. Do you think Kobe felt emasculated?
  • The Lakers are an incredible 7-2 on the back half of back to backs this season. Last night's game was played with a depleted bench on the heels of a tough game in Houston. Splitting the Rockets-Spurs with a short bench is still impressive. Spurs fans should temper their morning after enthusiasm.
  • Of regular season contests, Popovich vs. Jackson now stands at 18-17, in favor of Pop. Phil Jackson is now 24-26 lifetime against the Spurs. How many teams does he have a losing record against? Two. The Spurs and Bobcats. Yet, he's 4 out of 5 in postseason series against San Antonio. Is there any doubt that these two coaches are in a class of their own? Rarely are games worth watching simply to observe the coaching. But in this case, I'd watch if these two were coaching little league teams against one another.
  • George Hill. He's good. But he's still a rookie with a sometimes sloppy handle. He had two way preventable turnovers last night that sullied what was an otherwise remarkable performance in his first "felt like the playoffs" game. If he plays as well in the postseason, the Spurs will roll right back into the Western Conference Finals.
  • Only 3 bigs? Pop gave Oberto a DNP-CD, limiting his rotation to Duncan, Bonner, and Thomas. My point here echoes the third bullet in this list: the Spurs roster needs tweaking. Ian Mahinmi's odd ankle injury and the waiving of Anthony Tolliver raise many more questions than answers for the Spurs frontline. Because of his relationship with Ginobili, I've always assumed that Oberto was quasi-untradable. I'm beginning to wonder. His contract is only partially guaranteed for next season, which might make him a prime trade and buy out candidate in a salary dump for another team. I'm a little stymied that the Spurs still haven't signed a D-League try out to replace Anthony Tolliver. There is a puzzle piece on the table that doesn't fit. In short, the Spurs frontcourt is not yet set. Update: Robert Horry was cheering for the Spurs last night with a view from R.C. Buford's press box. We're not reading too much into this, but it's on the radar. We're hoping it falls off the radar too.
  • This is the Spurs first victory of the season against an elite opponent. On the season, 7 victories are by 3 points or less, four of which were on final shots. The Spurs have won a remarkable three games by way of double overtime. I'm not sure if that's championship moxie or a sign of decline.
  • Playing the positive spin on the previous bullet, this team is all kinds of clutch. Just from a personnel standpoint, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Mason, and even Finely are good candidates for last second heroics. That has to be tough on opposing coaches.
  • The front office really did a fine job last offseason. This is the stuff of a future post, but the Hill selection and Mason Jr. are looking like smart plays. Kudos. Update: Marc Stein is all over this angle.
  • The final play: Ariza missed the shot. The traveling call controversy is straining at gnats. And to further extinguish the flames of that silly little fire, Duncan grabbed the board. Had Ariza made the shot and received a whistle for traveling, I'd give Lakers fans a greater hearing. Otherwise, let's not pretend it was something it's not.

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