The San Antonio Spurs are slowly becoming a mess. Though there’s still time to get it together before the postseason, this is the time that usually the team begins solidifying its pieces. Instead, increases in doubts and injuries are what the Spurs face.
Kawhi Leonard (broken finger), Danny Green (broken finger) and Tiago Splitter (shoulder sprain) are all out for their own injuries and have left the rotation looking depleted at a time in which the team needs to establish itself as a contender, yet again. Every year the team faces skepticism from around the NBA fan base because of increasing age and lack of a superstar. Right now, those critics are looking right.
The team is currently second in the Western Conference, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are catching fire like Kevin Durant’s shooting recently and the team still hasn’t gotten a notable win against a contender.
Splitter has been keeping up with his usual contributions this season, but Green and Leonard have been in a bit of a slump. Green isn’t nearly the deadly shooter he was in the Finals last season and the Leonard project of expanding his offensive game hasn’t come along as timely as many assumed, as the Gregg Popovich-claimed future of the team hasn’t shown noticeable progress in his game.
Despite those individual issues, the team still needs those key pieces of the rotation and this week proved it. As the team faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, it’s safe to assume which sole team the Spurs defeated this week.
Leonard’s injury came during the second quarter of the 111-105 loss against the Thunder at home Jan. 22. The Spurs had to throw different players on Durant and, as you would assume with Tony Parker and Marco Belinelli being the two called up to the task, that didn’t work out very well. Durant finished with 36 points.
Parker actually outscored Durant with 37 points, but another Thunder player continues to kill the Spurs. Reggie Jackson scored 27 points and now averages 23.7 points per game against the Spurs this season. The athleticism of OKC is going to be a big issue going forward for the Spurs, considering the Thunder didn’t have Russell Westbrook either. A key turnover here and there really does wonders for the OKC momentum, which meanwhile can kill San Antonio quickly.
Though the Spurs defeated the Hawks 105-79 on Jan. 24, it’s difficult to think of this as a meaningful win. At least there’s one way the Spurs know how to win: face a team that’s equally if not more injured than itself. Atlanta had to go this game without Al Horford (out for the season), Pero Antic and DeMarre Carroll for various injuries, and the team also lost Jeff Teague to a sprained ankle in the second quarter of this game.
The Spurs came out with a defensive clamp on Atlanta, finishing the first quarter with a 27-14 advantage. From there, the team continued to build its lead throughout and was able to rest the remaining regular starters.
The new Spurs starting lineup included Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres substituting for those injured. The backcourt was very small, but the team made it out just fine. Boris Diaw led the team with 21 points, followed by Patty Mills’ 18 points and Tim Duncan’s 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Returning to Miami just had to bring back horrible memories for the Spurs players, who were probably dying to get out of there as soon as the game was over. Despite the recent history, this game just didn’t have the flair one would have expected, for obvious reasons.
With the Spurs down its best shooter and its best defender from the Finals series, the team didn’t really have a chance in this one. In the 113-101 loss Sunday afternoon, the team dug itself a 20-point hole heading into the fourth quarter, by which point the white flag was already waved.
Duncan led the team with 23 points, but only had three rebounds in a very uncharacteristically poor rebounding night for the team (28 total). Six players were in double figures for the Heat, with Chris Bosh leading the way with 24 points. Defensive struggles have been costly for the Spurs this season, as the team continues to allow scoring come from all areas against contenders.
Tuesday, Jan. 28 @ Houston Rockets
The Rockets have already shown the Spurs its deadly scoring from all over the court in its first two games of the season. Don’t expect them to let up, while the Spurs must find a way to defend Dwight Howard without Splitter.
Wednesday, Jan. 29 vs. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are in full-on tank mode this season after the Luol Deng trade, though it’s more of a retooling than a complete rebuild. Needless to say, the Spurs should be able to take advantage of this game. A loss here would be very demoralizing.
Saturday, Feb. 1 vs. Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay has been quite the surprise for the Kings since his arrival, as his shooting percentage has gone up nearly 15 percent compared to his time with the Toronto Raptors this season before the trade. An efficient Gay with DeMarcus Cousins means the Spurs need to pay more attention to this team that can sneak up on them.