Defining Moment? Expect losses and growth, not answers

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Tangible growth versus inflated success, which of these holds more truth in the Spurs early NBA-leading 26-4 record?

Even the most optimistic Spurs fan, and I’ve been among the most optimistic of analysts, realizes that the San Antonio Spurs scorching start has been buttressed by a soft schedule (20th in the league) and facing opponents at opportune times.

Yes, Richard Jefferson has improved in year two. Tony Parker is healthy. And the Spurs, who would have improved drastically had they just replaced last season’s versions of Roger Mason jr. and Keith Bogans with replacement level players, have unearthed a gem in Gary Neal and possibly James Anderson.

But how improved are they against elite teams? As badly as many would like to point to the next five games—all against playoff teams—to legitimize the Spurs standing, unless this stretch swings into one extreme or another, the next two weeks will likely have little bearing on where this team stands come Spring.

At this time a year ago, everyone was ready to blow this thing up, even as statisticians pointed to the Spurs healthy margin of victory and beast of a record against inferior opponents as signs that the team had not fallen off as far as it appeared. Everything had seemingly gone wrong then just as everything is seemingly falling right now.

But realize, even though a good measure of improvement is legitimate, the Spurs are merely doing what they did a year ago—feasting on inferior opponents.

The Spurs will lose a few of these, even possibly tonight—it’s hard to imagine the Lakers putting up back-to-back lethargic performances against quality opponents. No one expects this team to continue at a pace that would challenge the Chicago Bulls 72-win record, not even head coach Gregg Popovich, as Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News points out:

The 25-4 record may be a comfort to fans, but Popovich sounds a warning about relying on early success as a guarantor of preferred playoff positioning.

“That’s a dangerous thought,” Popovich said. “If our players look at it as a cushion, mentally that can become a quagmire. You think you’re in such good shape, subconsciously your energy level and concentration drops, which leads to problems with execution, that kind of thing.

“I don’t want to look at it like that at all. I want to look at it more like we haven’t accomplished anything, because it’s still the regular season, and we’re still such an average, at best, defensive team.”

Just because the Spurs are off to a blazing start, does not mean there is not room for growth. Those 72-win Chicago Bulls were world beaters, something no one claims these Spurs to be—yet.

Losses, unwanted as they may be, would probably be welcomed by this staff if only to provide teaching tools and perspective.

Tonight’s game is an interesting watch if only for its irrelevance. The Lakers and Spurs perhaps have more room for potential growth this season than any other elite team and will not face each other in the playoffs as the teams that meet tonight.

The Spurs would improve even if all they did was gradually reduce the minutes restraints placed on their best players as the season wore on, but they are also sitting on a potential defensive force in Tiago Splitter, deploying Antonio McDyess as a secret weapon as needed, and awaiting more depth on the wings in James Anderson.

So realize how miniscule the difference is between 2-3 and 3-2, and whichever side of the record the Spurs fall on after this week will not make them champs or frauds.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    I think we are all cautiously optimistic but I feel that the record so far is no fluke. This team FINALLY has health after 2 seasons without it. The Big 3 are fully rested, motivated and have some help from R-Jeff as well as a cast of youthful players who have fit into the Spurs system so far….better than what could have been expected. Sure there have been some soft opponents but the same could be said of the Lakers with the exception that San Antonio has taken out the trash, while the Lakeshow has wallowed in it.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Oh yeah and if you are going to the game tonight (or any Spurs home game for that matter), stop by my table next to the Main Spurs Fan Shop and pick up a personally autographed, limited ABA George Gervin figure that you can only purchase from BPI (my company) for $49.99! Half the proceeds are going to the George Gervin Youth Center (GGYC). Ok, I am done with my shameless plug. GO SPURS GO!!!!!

  • rob

    At this point and time I don’t think a 2-3 would be a significant indication of a fraudulant team but a 3-2 might be a significant indication of a very good team.

  • ITGuy

    “Losses, unwanted as they may be, would probably be welcomed by this staff if only to provide teaching tools and perspective.”

    What could you have taught the Spurs if they had lost a couple more games so far?
    Why do they have to lose to learn?

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • marion

    It seems like we as Spurs fans or bloggers or commentators….we are apologizing for the Spurs great start.

    The players said they wanted a better start this year. So far….that has been accomplished.

    Yes, there is still improvement for this team. It is not a finish product. We know all this.

    It feels like the Spurs are 4-26 than 26-4.

    It is a different start for sure than the past….but things in life change and you have to go with it.

    The Spurs have evolved from the 2007 Championship and they are still evolving.

    Let’s enjoy this a little more instead of wondering if their record is inflated or not.

  • marion

    Also, why are we so obsessed with the 72 wins record?

    That was a great acheivement by the Bulls.

    But we haven’t even played the half the season yet and we have this watch for someone winning 72 games.

    It seems like the media is always trying to get ahead of a story instead of letting it happen.

    That’s how history is truly made. Not by predicting it prematurely. Sheesh!

  • Flavor

    Instant classic tonight (at least I hope)…. I think even if we win the next games against L.A., Dallas, OKC, NY, and Boston, we’re still going to have people “moving the goal post” so to speak… They’ll come back with, “well, the Spurs won, but… (insert reason to doubt their pedigree here)” This probably stems from the team’s personality of always finding room to improve, which is a good thing, but at some point you have to say… The Spurs are for real…

    And if we lose? The trade talks begin… I expect the Spurs to go 5-0 @ best and 2-3 at Worst.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Jesse Blanchard

    Not apologizing for the great start, and I am not, not enjoying this season. Just bracing for the inevitable loss or two that will happen over the next two weeks that will bring on the Fire Pop, start Mahinm–err–Splitter, cut Matt Bonner for nothing backlash that will come as a result.

    Also, I really do believe the Spurs and Lakers have the greatest room for growth this season. It’ll be a fun stretch, but this is a process…and that field goal percentage defense has a ways to go.

  • TD = BEST EVER

    It really not about IF we win or loose as much as HOW WE WIN OR LOOSE!!!! WE need that 2007 D to show back up and start winning games with defense and rebounding because you CAN’T hang your hat on Offense or the 3-ball……….

    So lets go out there and play some ol school SA basketball and show the NBA that we are for real!!!

  • Flavor

    @ Mr Blanchard lol @ the “Fire pop, start Mahinm-err-Splitter” line!!!

  • Daniel

    I am going to the game but I don’t want a classic! I want to see Quinn play the entire fourth quarter in a blowout win for the Spurs!

  • DorieStreet

    Looking forward to see how our bench performs against the Laker subs. Barring some player or team in one of the other five games doing something spectacular, we know this matchup will be covered first and foremost by the sports media tonight & tomorrow mornng.

  • SpurredOn

    @Jesse – ignore that crowd. Such emotional and thoughtless rants do not define analysis.

    Losses will occur, and most likely to top teams. I still view these match ups through the full season lense: I want to at least be 2-2 vs LAL (as was done last season) and 2-2 vs Dallas. That the Spurs already lead both in the standings more than a 3rd of the way through the season, this would help prevent those teams from catching up and eliminate any seeding tie breaker. It’s also important to eliminate any psychological advantages come playoff time (though that didn’t stop the Spurs from beating a Mavs team that they lost the regular season series to last year).

    I think it’s important that the Lakers go winless in SA this season. Let our home success, combined with a possible 60-win season, show how the gap has flipped and it is the Lakers now looking up and searching for confidence. This may come in handy around May.

  • agutierrez

    In the SA Express, Gary Neal is quoted as saying that Pop came to practice today with an inordinate level of intensity. I have my doubts. If anything, I think Pop might actually prefer a loss, first to ensure against over confidence and second, to instill “appropriate fear” from here on out. I see Pop running his normal rotations with little regard for the eventual outcome of the game. That way if we lose, it’s just a normal part of the ebb and flow of the season and the learning process, and if we win, it’s just another win.

  • TD = BEST EVER

    @ SpurredOn
    “Let our home success, combined with a possible 60-win season, show how the gap has flipped and it is the Lakers now looking up and searching for confidence. This may come in handy around May.”

    + 10

    This will show itself mostly with our and our Opponents role players. Guys like Blake and Bonner always play better at home and while playing teams they have had regular season success against

  • lvmainman

    Spurs should be aiming for best record and home court advantage. Why? The playoff path to a championship would be easier. As the #1 seed, Spurs probably won’t have to beat both the Lakers and the Mavs. Not to mention home court advantage throughout.

    I’ll be disappointed if the Spurs don’t go at least 3-2 in the next 5 games.

  • Dr. Who

    I really don’t know what to make of tonight. It’s a strange uninspired Fakers team we’re
    Playin but the Rapist lit into his team so there will be some fire in their belly. If we win it’s because the Lakers are Dow. If we lose it’s because we’re no as good as we thought we were and playing an inspired Lakers team. On the whole the next 5 games will show the brass what needs attention. Even if we go 1-4 (I doubt we will), it still isn’t circle the wagon time; u don’t get a championship for having the best record thru January. It will be a good barometer for the current Spurs team. I think we all hope to see a very different one come playoff time.

  • Dr. Who

    Forgive the above misspellings etc. &)$&&(!!! iPhone!!! Game time!

  • Flavor

    Blair CAN NOT play against the Lakers’ bigs!!!!!

    DeJuan Blair:
    17 Pts, 15 Reb, 2 Stl, 1 Blk.

  • r.l.manuel

    they just spanked the world champs…
    thats how they stack vs. elite…
    go spurs go!!!

  • Mitch

    GO SPURS GO!!!

  • r.l.manuel

    next???
    go spurs go

  • duaneofly

    so much for the Lakers lol

  • r.l.manuel

    defense wins championships
    go spurs go

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Flavor

    Yes BLAIR played EXTREMELY WELL – and SO did the SPURS…….

    I missed most of this games because of work but it seemed a little odd that Gasol only had 8 FGA’s
    Did He and Timmy basically beat each other up all night or what?

  • td4life

    A 15-point win while TD and Manu COMBINE for only 11!

  • Hobson13

    Ok. Has Blair been sandbagging for he first 29 games? After he gives this interview, he comes out and gets 17/15 against the LAKERS…call me crazy, but somethings up.

    http://www.nba.com/spurs/multimedia/101227_blair.html

  • Spurholic in Mumbai

    @ JB

    Good to read your comments, make it more regular.

    Just finished the LA gam, best defense in IInd half by Spurs. Kobe had 21 points of 27 attempts, awesome defense by George Hill and Manu. Blair, living up to 48 MoH’s potential! Dallas next

  • DorieStreet

    Great win tonight, especially with Manu & Tim struggling offensively. Very glad to see Blair have a strong double-double. Man, we are going to have to find that 3pt shot in Dallas Thursday night. You know Dirk is going to play. Let’s wake up New Year’s Eve morning with a 28-4 record!!!

  • Gebo

    For: TD= Best EVER
    To me it looked like Kobe kept Gasol’s FGAs down. Kobe had the ball in his hands a great deal. He put up lots of shots and many of his passes were skip passes to the opposite corner and opposite wing instead of going into the post. Not getting touches seemed to put a damper on Gasol’s aggressiveness. I’m going to leave this one on the DVR for awhile.

  • NYC

    I don’t know what to make of this win. I’m certainly glad we ended with a W, but I’m not sure how indicative it is of future games, especially a playoff series.

    Kobe had a terrible game (and still managed 21 pts.), Manu had a bad game, Timmy had a bad game, and Pau had a bad game. Blair had a breakout game, but not sure if he can repeat such a performance in a series.

    The only thing this game proves to me is that our bench is much better than their bench, Fischer is old, and Parker is fast. Nothing new here.

    Also, Bynum is much stronger than Splitter. I really don’t understand why they didn’t play Gasol and Bynum together more. They were effective at forcing Blair to pass out in the post rather than risk a posterizing block. They probably could have kept Blair from grabbing all those offensive rebounds, too.

    On the offensive end, they didn’t pound the ball inside even though Bynum was proving effective and out-muscling everyone we threw at him. Fluke? Phil Jackson seemed to say in a post-game interview that Bynum was making some mistakes he didn’t like so he didn’t call more plays for him.

    On the other hand, Matt Bonner was decent in keeping Gasol from posting up and backing his way into the paint, something Tiago was not doing well. As with Blair, I’m not sure I would put my money on that happening in a rematch.

    If you had told me yesterday that we would blow out LA by playing Bonner and Blair against the much-ballyhooed length and power of the Lakers’ front court, I would have laughed in your face. This whole game was just weird:

    Timmy (29:28) – 2 pts, 4 rbs, 2 asts
    Bonner (26:14) – 8 pts, 5 rbs, 2 asts

    Gasol, P ( 34:24) – 9 pts, 9 rbs, 5 asts, 3 blks
    Blair (32:05) – 17 pts, 15 rbs, 2 stls

    Bynum (21:52) – 10 pts, 7 rbs, 1 blk
    Odom (37:11) – 9pts, 8 rbs, 1 blk

    McDyes – DNP

    ??????

    While we did not NOT play well, LA was really bad. I wouldn’t get carried away with this one win. Let’s see how we do against Dallas.

  • Flavor

    The goal post keeps moving… no doubt.

  • NYC

    @ Gebo

    That’s exactly what Phil Jackson said in post-game interview if you saw the LA feed. Kobe taking too many shots (missing 13 straight at one point) kept Gasol from getting touches and thereby losing interest/focus.

    Gasol’s numbers weren’t bad per se, but definitely below expectation.

    I’m more and more convinced this game was a big fluke for 4 of the stars (Kobe, Manu, Timmy, and Pau) and is deceiving to judge by. If we go into the rematch thinking either team will play a similar game as tonight’s, we will be doing ourselves a grave disservice and setting ourselves up for an upset.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ NYC
    I agree LA did play a horrible game and its very hard for me too see this happening again in the future……..
    If this is the LA team that shows up in the playoffs we won’t even have to worry about beating them……..Utah or OKC will take them out for us……

    But hopefully Blair has learned a little something that he can use down the road as well as Indy G guarding Kobe……..

  • SpursfanSteve

    NYC-

    We didnt play bad. We shot bad. And as bad as the Lakers played, we caused a lot of it. They didnt get open looks- partially because they started relying on an iso-for-kobe-heavy offense and partially because we were great at closing out on shooters. Hell, Jefferson double down low, they kicked the ball to his guy, and Jefferson BLOCKED THE THREE…how often do 3 point attempts get blocked?

    On the other hand, we ran our offense, got open looks, and missed. RJ alone missed 6 WIDE OPEN corner 3’s. Want to bet that repeats in a series? Or than Manu and Tim combine for 11 points total in a series?

    I think if both teams play to their potential, we still have an edge. One of the reasons Pau’s FGA’s were so low was because Blair did an excellent job of either stealing or poking away the entry passes to him. Thats hustle, and effort, and that will ALWAYS be there for Blair.

    This is the second time Hill has done an oustanding job on Kobe. He was a little out of shape from being off for so long, but used his length, athleticism, and smarts to force Kobe into probably his most inefficient night of the season. He didnt fall for any of Kobe’s fakes…which is one of the biggest keys to slowing him down. It’s how Bruce did so well against him for so long- stay right in his face, dont fall for the fakes, and contest everything. Manu did really well, too.

  • NYC

    @ TD Best Ever

    Hill did do a tremendous job guarding Kobe, if you didn’t see the game. Even the LA broadcasters singled him out as the Subway Sub Player of the Game (or something). That is one encouraging takeaway from this game.

    Hill got under Kobe’s skin, causing Kobe to lose his cool and instigate a double technical. After that, Kobe beef went on to lay 13 bricks in a row. Hill’s defense definitely affected the outcome of this game.

  • NYC

    @ Steve

    Yes, I agree that our defense looked pretty good (for once) and definitely had a lot to do with their poor performance. That is why I am confused. How much of this lopsided victory do we attribute to what we did right, and how much to attribute to what they did wrong?

    Their poor offense seemed to carry over into poor defense: they kinda gave up. So the question becomes, Did they play exceptionally poor because we played so exceptionally well, or did we play exceptionally well because they played so poorly?

    (The answer, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. But WHERE??)

    Also, good point about Blair denying entry passes through hustle. I definitely saw that. My only question: why hasn’t he been doing this more consistently against other teams?

  • notasgoodasoncewas

    I don’t care if La had a bad game or the Spurs and lakers didn’t shoot well and I’m not going to judge our season by this win. Maybe some of you didn’t see the same game I saw but this was the best defense The Spurs played all year. The team defense was outstanding. Blair was a monster inside becuse he played smart. Hill was all over the place ect…. I saw blocks stolen passes hell Hill was in Kobe’s face so much Kobe was trying to argue with him. If we win a title it will be becuse our defense and while we have a ways to go I see signs of improving. All that these games this month are going to do is show us where we are right now and I know we will not be the same at the end of the season. we will either reach our potential or we won’t win another title this year. But it does look promising.

  • rj

    a few thoughts. dejuan blair changed the game in the 4th-splitter looked good despite the fouls-l.a. may be feeling the curse of success that is followed by entitlement and mediocrity-manu looked a little too anxiouus and fired up-tony is the key to beating l.a.- even in an embarassing loss, kobe’s “off night” dominated headlines. no mention of rj manu and g hill smothering kobe into frustration or despite the fact that manu and tim were non factors, we still won convincingly

  • DorieStreet

    @ Flavor– the goal post is not only keeps moving, the uprights are narrowing!!!! This is what you make of the game—it was very uneven, as the qtr by qtr scoring indicates. Each team had scoring droughts, then scoring runs. Lakers shooting was near 50% for the first half until we turned up the D. Spurs shooting was abysmal all night long (ATROCIOUS 3PT PERFORMANCE) until end of 3rd-4th qtr. It is a good sign that we continue winning–at home / vs. a + .500 team /against a playoff team (defending champ)- even if the opponent is struggling. I can see it now- if we beat the Mavs – with our without Dirk–someone will post that the Spurs will start the new year on a 5 game losing streak.

  • Phoebus

    It always makes me scratch my head when folks say ( at least in terms of basketball) “we played great defense, so why didn’t we beat em by 30?”

    As far as the layman’s eyes an nba game is never like that, right? if you beat em by 10 but the final score is 80-70 then you beat em pretty soundly. a 10 point differential is nothing in a high-scoring game but in a defensive one it’s a huge hill to climb.

  • Dayzie

    So….. yeah. I think the Lakers basically hung themselves and we beat at them with sticks a bit. As a life long Spurs fanatic, though, I have to say how good it feels to take the Lakers to the cleaners. It always feels nice to beat the Lakers, but especially after the last two years!

    I think Thursday is definitely the game to watch out for. Anybody disagree with that?

  • Hemisfair89

    Jeezuz!- can we not just enjoy the win? Jeezuz! The Spurs went out and took it! What’s the point of questioning “did we play exceptionally well because they played exceptionally poor?” What do we get from questions like that? We won and we’re doing “exceptionally” well against all teams, including those over .500. It’s almost like we’re Boston Red Sox or Cubs fans as notorious as those fans are for being pessimists. We got a very good ball club, led by very good veteran players, coached by a great future HOF coach. Obviously the Larry O’Brien trophy is not won in December, but we’re doing a lot of good by winning 27 out of 31 games so far. Leave the pessimism to ESPN and the entire area outside of Bexar County.

  • hemisfair89

    yeah, we have to get that Dallas game, otherwise it’s like 2 steps back kinda thing. Thats definitely not a game where Manu can score under 10 points again. Like Sir Charles says “he’s the engine that stirs our drink”.

  • Flavor

    Hemisphere89: Leave the pessimism to ESPN and the entire area outside of Bexar County

    LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED THAT!

  • r.l.manuel

    SPURS beat the evil empire with DEFENSE
    i dont care if the Lakers played poorly
    wah wah wah
    the Spurs took it to em
    and they folded like a cheap suit
    we didnt win cause L.A played bad
    S.A. played better period…
    no team that S.A. has played this year
    has just ” given” S.A. a win
    still everyone says were not the best team in texas
    sheesh…
    if S.A. beats Dallas , then what will they say???
    GO SPURS GO
    GO SPURS GO
    GO SPURS GO

  • ITGuy

    @Hemisfair89
    Best post so far!!!

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • irongiantkc

    TD=BestEver
    Are you NOT AWARE how obnoxious all your CAPITALS and EXCLAMATION POINTS ARE????!!!! Stop the madness. From this point on, I propose a voluntary hiatus on exclamation points. And never, never more than two exclamation points in a row (!!!). SERIOUSLY!!! (oops).

  • Cool-Hand-Bonner

    You go-on Spurs.. Yous some good ol’ Boys, Spurs… you gon’ be a WORRRRRLLLLD BEATER

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