For struggling NBA teams, there's nothing like visits from the New York Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies to set things right. The San Antonio Spurs are struggling with injuries, and Manu Ginobili continues to remain on the bench with a sprained finger. Since Christmas, San Antonio is 3-2, and struggling to maintain its lead in the division. Just one game back are Dallas and surprising New Orleans, who seem to be waiting for a Spurs’ slip. Houston, who was expected by many to challenge the other Texas teams, remains seven games back, and are struggling to stay at .500.
The day after Christmas, the Spurs hosted the Chicago Bulls, and were the first lucky team to face them after axing their coach on Christmas Eve. The game was not much of a contest, as San Antonio easily dealt with the team from the Windy City, 94-79. Tony Parker led the team with 28 points, and Michael Finley added 15. Tim Duncan was a bit off, only scoring 8 points, but did add 11 rebounds and 6 assists. The game was not totally full of holiday cheer for the Spurs, as the injury bug bit again. This time, Brent Barry was the victim, tearing a calf muscle.
Next up was Toronto, who had dropped three straight games, but also was coming off a week off. The rest certainly showed, as they owned the fourth quarter. Coach Popovich was ejected in the final period and Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan each got technicals called on them which helped to seal the game. Things weren’t much better before then either, as San Antonio shot as poorly as they have all season, only managing 32% from the field. The 73 points they scored was also a season low.
Two nights later, though, San Antonio was able to take their frustrations out against cellar-dweller, Memphis, winning handily, 111-87. In that contest four Spurs caused major damage, as Parker scored 24, Finley poured in 22, hitting 5 threes, and Matt Bonner scored 24. Tim Duncan scored 24 and also cleaned up 17 rebounds, had 7 assists, and 3 blocks. The team shot 45% from behind the arc, and outrebounded the Grizzlies 46-32.
It seems for every step forward, this season, the Spurs take one back and four days later against the Denver Nuggets, the team stepped back. The Spurs are the team that prides itself on defense, but the Nuggets gave them a taste of their own medicine. Tim Duncan managed 20 points, but was hassled all night by the Nuggets trio of Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, and Eduardo Najera. Duncan only made 7-20 shots from the field, and had four turnovers, one with 45 seconds left, which was converted to give the Nuggets the lead. Kenyon Martin was terrible on the offensive end for Denver, but had seven blocks, one against Tony Parker late in the game to preserve the victory.
Friday night, San Antonio was back home to host the NBA's best soap opera team, the New York Knicks. Things normally go well for San Antonio when they can get points from players who don’t normally score a lot, so when Bruce Bowen leads the team in scoring, things usually turn out well for the silver and black. The defensive specialist had 15, and they were much needed, as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker only scored 12 each. San Antonio forced 16 Knick turnovers in the contest, although Eddy Curry had his way on the inside, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Considering that the Knicks are 8-23 and firmly entrenched in last place in the Atlantic, the 97-93 victory was probably closer than it should have been.
The Spurs are not playing terrific basketball at the moment. The loss of Ginobili is hurting the team, depriving it of a needed spark, and the chemistry has suffered from all of the other injuries. Matt Bonner is playing well and logging quality minutes, but the team must get healthy and start playing consistently in order to hold onto the spot atop the division.