This is easily the toughest two-game stretch of the Rodeo Road Trip and of course, because Stern hates the Spurs, it’s on a back-to-back. Given Pop’s declaration today that Tim and Manu might be out until after the All-Star Break, I won’t be shocked if the Spurs are 1-4 at the end of this stretch. Then again, I also won’t be shocked if they take both games and lose to Cleveland on Wednesday. With the weird rotations and the inconsistency of the bench, every possible outcome is in play.
1. Song of the Game: Foster & Lloyd, “Texas in 1880″
The rodeo trip always gives me a chance to break out this tune from Foster & Lloyd. If you are a fan of the y’allternative (alt-country for the refined of you) movement, you may think it began with Ryan Adams and Uncle Tupelo. They certainly brought into the modern era, but bands like Foster & Lloyd were the ones who inspired those groups 10 years earlier.
2. Who Has to Be Stopped: Nets: Deron, Bulls: Open Shots
The Nets have been weird all season long. While they have been winning more since P.J. took over, their offense is a strange thing, with iso-heavy players and a pick-and-roll heavy system. Deron Williams has struggled for huge chunks of the season, but he’s still the guy that needs to initiate the offense. The Spurs have been really good over the years at baiting Deron and Joe Johnson (when he was in Atlanta) into inefficient games by conceding the long 2s and shutting down movement and screen games.
The Bulls are a different animal entirely. Without Rose, they are still a strong Eastern contender; when he comes back, if he’s really back, they represent the only true challenger to the Heat. But for today, it’s an assemble cast that relies on balanced scoring from lots of different players. The Spurs must be more disciplined defensively to avoid the open corner 3s that the Bulls and Spurs like.
3. Who Has to Go Off: The Bench
The script is the same for both of these games: with Diaw starting and no Manu, the rest of the guys who play nominally have to play better. In particular, we need Gary Neal to be Gary Neal again, especially for those games when we get Icy Danny Green instead of Hot Danny Green. In addition, Jack, who has been pretty awful much of the season (in part because of the broken finger), has looked more engaged and confident the past two weeks.
4. And the Crystal Ball Says….: Spurs, 93; Nets, 90 and Spurs, 86; Bulls, 91
I think today will be tight, but I believe in Kawhi’s ability to force Joe Johnson into inefficient shots. Lopez will hurt inside without Tim, but Tiago played well against him earlier in the season.
The Bulls game will be much tougher. On the wrong end of the b-2-b, against a defensively minded team, it’s hard for me to envision a win without either Timmy or Manu making a return.
5. I’m Wrong If….: Someone Come Back
Manu was apparently trying to convince Pop to play today, according to the SA E-N. I’m not sure how effective he can be after being out this long, but he could bring some stability to the bench in a way that no one else can.
6. Odds and Ends
Spurs fans should not panic if turns out to be a less spectacular RRT than past years. Remember 2007? The last year they won a title? A 4-4 RRT that season. No panic buttons yet.
Twitter nearly blew up in Texas this week with rumors about a possible Al Jefferson to San Antonio deal. There were varying reports about the particulars, but in essence, it was Al for a PG (Cory, Nando, or Patty), Jack’s expiring contract, and Tiago. I don’t think this deal is happening. I know about the links to the Jazz front office, but it’s hard to believe the Jazz can’t do better than that for Big Al. Still, if Utah wants that deal, I do it. Al is the same age as Tiago – 28 – and represents a transition to the next era of the Spurs. He can allow Timmy to slide into the Admiral role the last few years of his career. And he is a low-post scorer, maybe the purest in the game. I heard all of the pick-and-roll arguments and the Al-sucks-on-D arguments. And I get it. You think he won’t look better in this system, next to Duncan? And if you make the argument based on keeping Tiago, I have to ask you: how much better is Splitter going to get? Maybe he develops into an average low post scorer over time, but I think that’s the only area where he’s going to substantially improve. Plus, there’s no guarantee San Antonio can resign him anyway. I love Tiago, believe me, but if R.C. gets the chance to put Al in a Spurs uniform, I’ll be the first one jumping for joy.