|AP Photos of Jan. 24: TXEG201-202|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 25 January 2008 19:11|
But the league's resident perfectionists aren't winning enough to satisfy their critics - or themselves.
``We just know we're not playing our best basketball. That's it,'' point guard Tony Parker said after a home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. ``We have a lot of room for improvement.''
There's some truth to Parker's statement. The often-untouchable Spurs have been looking somewhat average lately. Through November, the first full month of the season, they went 14-3. Since then, they've gone 14-10, including four two-game losing streaks.
They've struggled on the road and against teams with winning records. Sometimes they find themselves having to battle even against losing teams - witness their narrow win against the Miami Heat on Thursday - and at home.
``We are still not playing the way we should be at this point in the season,'' Manu Ginobili said earlier this month after the Spurs rallied to beat the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves. ``We're looking kind of frustrated sometimes. ... I guess it's like a mental block for a bit and hopefully we're going to come back to play the way we were playing in November.''
T Center for what will be nine away games beginning Monday.
``I'm concerned about the Spurs. They are missing an energy or something right now,'' TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley said earlier this month. ``There's a long way to go (in the season) but even though they have one of the best records in the game, they are just missing something, like an energy level.''
The upcoming road trip will include the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics. They won't play at home again until a Feb. 19 game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
``There's no time for a woe-is-me kind of thing,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``If I really tried to go overboard on them this early in the season I'd get a lot of strange looks probably since they are so experienced. But we're going to continue to coach and do what we do and it's worked before.''
Why doesn't Popovich seem all that concerned?
Well, for one thing, he's Gregg Popovich and it is the Spurs he's coaching. For another, Popovich and the team use the road trip to focus in, establish rotations and cultivate what Popovich called a ``bunker mentality.''
Besides, the Spurs have been here before. That includes last year, before they went on to win the title with a four-game sweep of the Cavaliers. Much was made then about the struggling Spurs, who were 31-14 before last season's midseason road trip.
With one more home game to play on Saturday before hitting the road, the Spurs have a 28-13 record.
``We had sort of the same thing going last year with us, where we weren't quite playing up to our capabilities on either end of the court and there were some glaring issues that we needed to find some solutions to,'' guard Brent Barry said. ``And I think we're kind of in that same mode right now.''
The Spurs went 4-4 on last year's rodeo road trip, then went on to build a 23-6 record after the All-Star break.
That team was largely injury-free. This year the Spurs suffered from absences of their Big Three: Ginobili, Parker and key cog Tim Duncan. The handful of games each player missed spanned from early December to early January and explains some of San Antonio's midseason challenges.
``We had Manu and Tim and Tony out for games and it threw off our rhythm a bit,'' Barry said. ``We just have to get back to finding that and slowly work our way back into the type of basketball that I know coach would be happy with us playing. And when coach is happy that usually means that we're winning games.''
Despite the discussion about whether San Antonio can hack it - and such talk is always louder after a championship - the defense-minded Spurs allow the third-fewest points per game (behind Boston and Detroit) and boast four players with double-digit scoring averages.
But the West is more competitive than ever and the Spurs know they can't rest on their laurels until the postseason.
``It's not like a light switch, 'We're playing bad, OK, let's turn it on.' No,'' center Francisco Elson said. ``We should just come out there and show that we are for real.''
The Spurs got a start on that this week against the Los Angeles Lakers. After playing a disorganized first half, they showed their mettle in the second and put the Lakers away.
Duncan said playing well on both ends of the court was something the team had not done the last 10 or so games.
``We're either out there scoring the ball and not defending, or defending and not scoring the ball,'' Duncan said after the win. ``I thought we put it together well in ... that second half. That's the kind of basketball we want to get back to.''