Give-and-go: Do the Spurs have anything left in the tank?

Give-and-go: Do the Spurs have anything left in the tank?

Give-and-go: Do the Spurs have anything left in the tank?
By LARRY JOSEPHSON

Rick Pitino figured he had it knocked. He would draft Tim Duncan, make him the centerpiece of the Celtics’ revival and resuscitate a Boston franchise that had been decimated since the retirement of Larry Bird in the early 1990s.

M.L. Carr, the Celtics coach before Little Ricky arrived in town, had certainly done his part, diving into the tank in 1996-97 and winning just 15 games as eyebrows were raised all over the NBA.

But the Celtics never got within a sniff of Duncan. The ping pong balls went San Antonio’s way, and the Big Fundamental headed toward Texas and combined with a then-healthy David Robinson. For the next decade the Spurs drank champagne while the Celtics ate dust.

On Sunday the Spurs take on the Lakers in Los Angeles (ABC) in a game that will take the temperature of a very-veteran Spurs team that may or may not have another title run in its baggy shorts. (Dallas is at Boston in the front end of the ABC doubleheader.)

Most teams in the NBA would gladly exchange rosters with the Spurs, who on the surface seem to be humming along nicely at 29-13 and on top in the brutal Southwest division. Riding the sturdy three-legged stool of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, SA is taking care of business in the division (6-3), in the Western Conference (19-6), at home (17-7) and on the road (12-6).

There’s only one problem.

“We suck on D,” says coach Gregg Popovich, channeling a picnic skunk.

Popovich’s edgy bumper ticker opinion notwithstanding, SA is actually seventh in the Association in points allowed (94.0), but the coach is particularly bull about his team’s inability of late to get stops. Lopsided losses to Orlando and Philly were particularly galling. They are an average (19-22) cover team.

What should be a concern for fans in the home of the Alamo is the fact that the Spurs are getting clobbered on the boards, night after night. That they are among NBA’s worst rebounding teams is due only partly to the fact that they milk clock and control tempo.

Duncan is 11th in the league in rebounding, and you have to search with a telescope to find the next Spur – Matt Bonner at 114th, who starts only because league rules mandate five players to begin a game.

Much more will be known about the Spurs over the next month. The Lakers game in the first of a three-game road swing before a home date against New Orleans on Jan. 31. On Feb. 2 the boys begin a Bataan Death March road trip, starting in San Francisco and finishing up 19 days later in Washington.

In Dallas, Mavs spinning their wheels

The word out of Big D is not pleasant. The Mavericks are having an OK year (25-18 SU, 19-24 ATS), but seem to be spinning their wheels under new coach Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle is an Eric Mangini type who doesn’t do warm and fuzzy, and that approach should work with a veteran team. But every day they seem to be taking a few baby steps away from the club that reached the NBA Finals a few years ago.

Dick Nowitzki still has his A game, but Josh Howard is banged up and reportedly sulking, and the front office can’t wait to get Jason Kidd’s salary off the books at the end of the season. Last week’s 34-point loss to a forgettable Milwaukee team reportedly opened Mark Cuban’s eyes.

Celtics making a move

The Celtics were sailing along nicely until they were overcome by that rogue wave in early January, but just as quickly as the slump came, it was gone. Boston now has seven wins in a row and five straight covers heading into Sunday’s ABC game against the Mavericks.

Last Thursday the Celtics were never threatened by the Magic in Orlando. There is lots of talk in Boston about finding a P.J. Brown-type big man for the stretch run and Stephon Marbury chatter continues non-stop, accelerating every time reserve point guard Eddie House misses a few 3s.

Whether the Celts make a move for Marbury could depend on how well another PG, Gabe Pruitt, performs over the next few weeks. Curiously, Sam Cassell often sits on the bench in uniform but has yet to play.

Shaq ready to carry Suns?

It’s just about the halfway mark of the season, around the time that Shaquille O’Neal starts to take things seriously. If Shaq doesn’t play in the All-Star game he’ll probably head for Vegas during the break. Assuming he makes it back from Vegas in one piece after the break, the Suns might be able to do some business.

The Big Aristotle dropped 21 and 12 on the Knicks the other night, and despite a puzzling blowout loss in Charlotte on Friday night, the Suns look like they’ll be in the mix in the West along with Denver, Utah, Portland and New Orleans for best team not named the Lakers. Phoenix has been the worst cover team in the league, but the public is still buying in (and got burned Friday night).

Things still OK in OKC

A little more than a week ago I posted a story about the Thunder covering the spread and losing. Not much has changed since. Oklahoma City is 28-16 against the number and has even started to win a few games. The Timberwolves are playing better themselves but can’t shake the last-place Thunder in the Northwest.

Stumbling blocks for Cavaliers

If you’re thinking that the Cavaliers just might have a chance to become the first team ever to go undefeated at home, here are the games to circle on the calendar – Feb. 8 (Lakers), March 17 (Orlando) and April 12 (Boston). The Boston game is late in the season, though, and it’s possible that playoff spots will be locked in by then. The Larry Bird Celtics of 1985-86 went 40-1 at home, and their only loss was to an under .500 Trail Blazer team that was in the midst of a tough East Coast road trip. Go figure.

Reorganization mode for the Pistons

Early returns are unclear on the Richard Hamilton-to-the-bench move by the Pistons. PG Rodney Stuckey gets to develop more quickly and play against other teams’ starters, more shots are freed up for Tayshaun Price and Allen Iverson can still go about the business of being Allen Iverson. After losing five in a row and six of seven, the Pistons  won two straight, including a 19-point slapdown of Toronto. Then they were crushed at home against a Dallas team with issues of its own. With Boston, Cleveland and Orlando surging, it’s hard to see the Pistons among the tall trees. But the Pistons are a veteran team that still thinks there’s enough gas in the tank for another playoff run.

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Re: Give-and-go: Do the Spurs have anything left in the tank?

Little early to be counting the Spurs out don't you think? Lots of hoops left to play.

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