The San Antonio Spurs come out of the All Star break tied with Phoenix and Oklahoma City in the Western Conference standings, 9 and 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for 1st and 1 and 1/2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks in the Southwest Division. Winners of 5 of their last 10 and 3 of the first 5 on their current 8 game road trip, the Spurs have had great successes and great failures during the first half of the season.
What went right:
The Bench: San Antonio’s bench is one of the most productive in the league. Both Manu Ginobli and DeJuan Blair score a lot of points, while Roger Mason Jr. and Matt Bonner have contributed big games at times. When the Spurs are winning, the bench is usually a major factor in their success.
George Hill: The 2nd year player from IUPUI has improved his game a lot since his rookie campaign. He has been the Spurs leading scorer in 4 of the last 6 games and has moved into the starting lineup at the shooting guard position.
Record vs. sub-.500 teams: The Spurs are beating up on the teams they’re supposed to, posting a 19-2 record. The Bulls are the only team with a losing record to beat the Spurs all season.
What went wrong:
Richard Jefferson: I’ll have a more in depth analysis of his play at another time, but I think it’s safe to say that the Spurs were expecting more when they traded for him over the summer. His scoring average of 12.2 points per game is the lowest since his rookie season, when he only scored 9.4 points per game.
Record vs. over-.500 teams: This is the complete opposite of how the Spurs have fared against losing teams. Coming out of the All Star break, San Antonio is only 11-19 against teams with winning records. This mark is the worst of any Western Conference playoff team, and one of the worst of any team with a winning record.
Too many losses at home: The old adage is that if you play well at home and go .500 on the road, you’re team should have a pretty good record at the end of the year. The Spurs, though, have already lost 10 games at home this year. When paired with the teams .500 record on the road, it adds up to a tie for 5th in the Western Conference standings and possibly not having home court advantage come playoff time.
Richard Jefferson’s facial hair: This is probably just personal preference, but a goateed Jefferson hasn’t brought as much luck to the Spurs as a bearded Popovich did one year ago.
What to expect:
San Antonio must play more consistently if they have any aspirations of moving into the top half of the Western Conference standings. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors as only 10 of the final 31 games are against teams with losing records, so the team will have to win some games against good teams.
There are also only 12 home games left this season and even though the Spurs haven’t been as good as usual at home, they are much better there than they are on the road.
Other players on the bench must step up, specifically Matt Bonner, as DeJuan Blair will probably not contribute as much during this time. Usually rookies fade down the stretch as they aren’t used to playing an 82 game NBA schedule. As the only other post player in Coach Popovich’s bench rotation, Bonner will most likely have a greater opportunity to contribute.
Richard Jefferson will also have to contribute more. This has been talked about to death by the media here in San Antonio, but it’s true. The Spurs don’t need him to score 20 points a game to win, but they do need him to score more than 12. The other night against Denver, he seemed frustrated in the 3rd quarter and then was more assertive on the offensive end. That’s what the Spurs need, for him to pick his spots and assert himself as a scorer and someone who will take the ball to the basket.
This team has more than enough talent to compete with most, if not all the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference. However, this season they’ve struggled to put teams away when they’ve had leads late or they’ve struggled overall. It seems at times, as if the team still has come together right, and who knows, it may be a bad mix of players overall. However, if this team can find a way to consistently play closer to it’s potential, they will have a very successful 2nd half.