[Preseason] San Antonio Spurs 123, Orlando Magic 101: The fun is back
There will be plenty of time over the next seven months and some change to talk about the Spurs, so this recap starts with me. It’s been a long while since my byline appeared on this site, with the exception of a couple of podcast appearances.
Last season was long and a break was in order. I wrote through three or four full seasons, a couple of long playoff runs and one lockout. I needed to recharge the batteries and get away.
Now that we’re on the verge of another NBA season, with the Spurs beating the Magic 123-101 in the second-to-the-last preseason game, things are getting back to normal around here.
It’s been almost four months since the gold rope was put away in Miami and things haven’t changed much. The Spurs are still fun and continue to play some of the most eye-catching basketball in the league.
One first half sequence provided the blueprint for what this squad can do with such vast roster carryover. After forcing a Magic turnover, new addition Marco Belinelli dribbled upcourt on the right wing and contemplated a pull-up 3 in transition. Deciding against it, he hit a streaking Boris Diaw in the lane, who kicked out to Manu Ginobili on the left wing.
Ginobili swung the ball to the top of the key for Patty Mills, who quickly sent the ball to Belinelli on the right wing, back where it all started. The Italian should’ve taken the open 3-pointer he was afforded, but was instead selfishly unselfish and forced a pass to an oblivious Jeff Ayres inside, much to the chagrin of the Spurs coaching staff.
The entire sequence took maybe five seconds and, despite the turnover, was a far cry from the typically rough preseason basketball going on around the league. The regular season is a process, but this team is so far along in terms of chemistry and corporate knowledge that they can’t help but be in sync all season.
If there’s anything that’s going to take the visual appeal up a notch for San Antonio this season, it’s whatever jump in production and star power Kawhi Leonard makes. After a Finals performance that put Leonard on the scene, all eyes are on Kawhi this season — when eyes are on San Antonio, that is.
The first two years of Leonard’s career produced flashes here and there of his seemingly limitless potential. Tuesday night against Orlando was no different. 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting in 21 minutes, five rebounds, two assists.
“We want him to be aggressive and expand his game,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said later.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Leonard as he enters his third season. For a lot of players, the third season is one in which they make huge strides in their game.
The move of the night came in the third quarter when Leonard got the ball on left wing with Magic guard Arron Afflalo on his right hip. Going to his left, Leonard took a hard dribble step-back through his legs and towards the baseline, leaving Afflalo in the dust and opening up acres of space to sink a midrange jumper.
It’s hard to decide which part of the move was more impressive: the quickness, the balance or the rhythm.
And while Leonard continues to grow and bulk up — it’s obvious he’s put on more muscle this season — it’s Tim Duncan that continues to shrink. Most people put on weight as they age and Duncan can’t fathom keeping it on. Yet again Duncan is leaner, having dropped about five pounds coming into this season. You’ll know Duncan is ready to retire when he looks like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The weight loss helped prolong Duncan’s career and increase his production, but every game is one closer to the end for the Hall of Famer, so you can imagine the players are ready to get the season started. Tony Parker sat against Orlando for both rest and to get one of Nando De Colo or Aron Baynes in uniform (the Spurs can only dress 13 players) and it’s likely that Duncan sits on Thursday against Houston.
The preseason is too long and we’re all ready for the regular slate to start, but Duncan said it best postgame: ”It’s better than practice.”