The Spurs tough season continues, and the injury bug has continued to bite the team. In fact, it is beginning to look like San Antonio may be the unluckiest team in the league. Tony Parker is now out for the second time this season, this time with bone spurs. Parker missed several games in December with a sprained ankle, and this time is expected to be out until after the All-Star game. It’s not like the guard position is one in which the Spurs are particularly deep. They did recently sign Damon Stoudamire, but in his 12th year in the league, he is certainly on the tail end of his career, and has not put up particularly stunning numbers in quite some time. Manu Ginobili is an All-Star at the G/F position, but the Argentine has had his own health issues this year as well. Top that off with Brent Barry being out with a torn calf muscle, and the Spurs look more like a M.A.S.H. unit than an NBA Finals contender.
Even so, the team has managed to persevere through the injuries, and remains in the thick of the hunt for first place in the Southwest Division. Currently, Dallas and New Orleans are tied for first, while San Antonio remains just a game and a half out of the lead. Much like the stock market recently, the Spurs have been a volatile team. Over the past five games the team has lost to some terrible teams, and beaten some of the best. Whether or not anyone wished to go long with this team right now is their decision.
On Jan 28, the Spurs traveled to Utah to began a brutal road schedule that features nine straight road games. They certainly didn’t get off of the right foot, losing to the Jazz 97-91. The game was a physical, brutal game-the kind the Spurs usually win-but despite terrific performances by Ginobili and Duncan, the Jazz and their tough defense prevailed. San Antonio turned the ball over 20 times and only shot 25% from behind the arc.
Next up on the western road trip was a visit to the lowly Supersonics. Normally a trip to Seattle is the cure for any team’s losing ways, but the Sonics turned the tables on the Spurs and broke their own 14 game losing streak. Kevin Durant, the 19 year old rookie from Texas, hit a jumper with 30 seconds left in the game to give the Sonics the win. Ginobili missed a three pointer with less than 5 seconds left that would have sent the game into overtime. Just before the game, Coach Popovitch benched Tony Parker indefinitely.
Ordinarily, a team on a two game losing streak does not want to go to Phoenix to try to break it. The Spurs, however, seem to have a sense of poetic justice. Having had their hearts broken by a game winning shot late in the game against Seattle, San Antonio had a bit of their own magic brewing against the first place Suns. With 30 seconds left the Spurs’ Duncan banked in a basket, and Ginobili made four free throws in the final seconds to give San Antonio a much needed win, and break the streak. They won the game in typical Spurs style, by clamping down on defense, holding the high-powered Suns to their lowest point total of the year, 81 points.
After the grind-it-out game against the Suns, San Antonio went on an offensive bender against the Pacers. This game was a tale of two halves. In the first period, Indiana shot a scorching 78% from the field and in the second 68%, but the game remained tied at the half. After the break, the Spurs ratcheted up the pressure, and held Indiana to just 18% shooting and 9 points in the third period, on the way to the 116-89 blowout.
Against Washington the next night, the Spurs got a lift from an unlikely source. Robert Horry, who has hit enough game winning shots in his career to have earned a spot in Spurs’ fans hearts forever, didn’t hit the game winning shot in this one. He just scored 9 points in less than 4 minutes to ignite the run that sealed the game. The crafty veteran only has 41 points on the year, but showed that he still can offer something to the team. The Spurs’ inside presence was the difference, as Duncan scored 23 points and pulled down 9 rebounds, and Oberto scored 10 points and corralled 11 rebounds.
With all their injuries, the Spurs remain a mystery. Other teams in the west are making bold moves. The Lakers have traded for Pau Gasol, and the Suns have acquired Shaq. San Antonio has plugged Stoudamire into its rotation, which brings some needed experience and depth to the point guard position, but the streak of injuries must cease for the team to have any chance of defending their title as NBA champions.