Spurs Remain in First, Beat LA

The Spurs continue to hold onto first place in the Southwest Division, but their lead is only one game over New Orleans. The division is still the most competitive in the NBA and will likely remain that way throughout the season. There are only four games separating the first place Spurs from the fourth place Dallas Mavericks. Most importantly for the Spurs, there are no injuries, and the team is playing terrific ball.

Over the last five games since the new year started, the Spurs have gone 4-1, while beating the LA Lakers in a 112-111 nail biter. Everyone rushing to declare the Lakers the repeat Western Conference champs again this year, may now have to reconsider. The game was the first time that the two teams played since last years conference finals. If it was a statement game, the statement was that the Spurs aren't going away without a fight.

While Kobe Bryant had 29 points and led a Lakers' comeback from 11 points down in the fourth, Roger Mason was the Spur who ended it. With 10 seconds left, Mason tied the game with a jumper and then hit a free throw to give them the win. Pretty much everyone had a good game for San Antonio.

Ginobili led the team with 27 points, Duncan and Parker each had 20, and Mason scored 18. Duncan also had 10 rebounds and 8 assists. The team shot 50% from behind the arc, and almost 60% from the floor.

The Spurs barely hung on, however, as LA went on a 17-5 run over the last 90 seconds, and would have won, if not for Mason's day-saving heroics. As good as the win itself, was the play of Ginobili. For the first time all year, the Argentine played like his old self--stealing the ball, dunking in transition, shooting the three, and throwing himself all over the court after loose balls. Of all the Spurs, Ginobili is the one who can get hot and almost single-handedly win a game. As he goes, so go the Spurs.

Although San Antonio did beat the team with the best record in the league, the one game that they lost was to the Orlando Magic, owners of the second best record. The loss marks the second loss to the Magic this year. The matchup of the night was between big men, and anyone wanting to know how to play the inside game would have done well to watch this exhibition. Dwight Howard was unstoppable for the Magic, scoring 24 points on 9-12 shooting, while grabbing 14 rebounds. Duncan's night was slightly more modest, scoring 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots.

The offense for the Spurs came from Tony Parker, who poured in 31 points and dished out 6 assists.

What spelled doom for San Antonio was their cold shooting. The team went 3-13 from behind the arc, for 23%. As bad as they were from behind the arc, the Magic were equally as good, making 14-22 shots for a sizzling 63% pace.

The Spurs next few games come against mediocre teams, as they will face New Jersey, Chicago, Charlotte, and Indiana, but the end of the month will test the team's mettle. In the last week of January, San Antonio faces a murderer's row of a western road trip. San Antonio has to go to the Lakers, Utah, Phoenix, and then come back to face New Orleans.

That is a brutal way to end the month, but it also is a chance for the Spurs to dominate, especially against the Lakers. Another win against LA would really set the tone for the rest of the year and for the race for the West.