If you talked to an average San Antonio Spurs fan throughout the course of this season, the main remark you would hear in relation to the (thus far) disappointing record is this: “There is no need to hit the panic button. The Spurs always turn it on late in the season.” I’m here to tell you otherwise. It is time for the Spurs to hit the panic button.
The Spurs currently sit at a mediocre 28-20 after a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday evening. While the loss itself was disappointing given the fact that star Brandon Roy was sidelined with an injury, the way in which the Spurs yet again found a way to lose left the most unsavory taste in the mouth.
The Spurs, famous for lock-down defense over the past decade, once again gave up a double-digit lead to lose the game. With the easiest part of the schedule in the rear-view mirror, it can only get worse from here.
When the Spurs made a move for Richard Jefferson during the summer, it was widely considered that the Spurs would be one of the top two teams in Western Conference. The Spurs, on paper, looked to be dominant.
The dominance lasted all of one night, however, in the season opener against the New Orleans Hornets, a game in which the Spurs displayed versatility and bench depth. Then there were losses to teams like the Chicago Bulls. Even recently, the Spurs lost to Charlotte, Memphis, Chicago, Denver, and Portland, teams without their best players. Richard Jefferson has been mostly disappointing and, to be quite honest, that is probably being too nice.
Early in the season, doubters of the Spurs were told to just wait. Gregg Popovich has always been known to tinker with the lineups for the first month or so of the season.
The problem this year is that, instead of having role-players such as Fabricio Oberto (who was never great but always had his role in the paint) or Brent Barry, Popovich was thrusting an aged Michael Finley and Matt Bonner into starting roles. Finley and Bonner aren’t very exceptional defenders and, to be frank, Bonner is virtually useless unless he is sinking the odd looking three-pointers he heaves up at the most inopportune times.
What Popovich failed to realize this season is that the easiest part of the schedule was early on. Now that the team has managed to lose to numerous bad teams and teams without their best players on the floor, they face the daunting task of playing teams like the Los Angeles Lakers (three times), Denver Nuggets (twice), Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns (twice), Cleveland Cavaliers (twice), Orlando Magic (twice), Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, and the Dallas Mavericks. Most of these games are on the road.
In other words, the team will have to be in full force playoff mode starting yesterday. No more tinkering with the lineups, no more looking for an “identity,” and, most of all, no more injuries. In order for the Spurs to even make the playoffs, they may be required to pull of one of the greatest half-seasons in modern NBA memory.
No longer do the Spurs play tight enough defense to make up for the excessive amount of turnovers that Manu Ginobili commits in relation to his actual production. Bruce Bowen, a staple in the past, was traded away for Richard Jefferson, and although released by the Bucks, he chose to retire.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Spurs have been in contact with Bowen, begging and pleading him to suit up for one final playoff push. Although Bowen is old, he can most likely still be the best defender on the team and probably still is a top 10 defender in the league. He may not score many points, but mark my words, he will make the corner three that the Spurs missed at least seven times last night, including the potential game-tying shot from Ginobili late in the fourth quarter. Bowen can limit the best offensive player on the opposing team all by himself, and the Spurs may be wise to thinking about taking Bruce back.
Will it fix everything that ails the team? No, because for that to happen, Gregg Popovich has to quit trying to simply clamp down on defense at the end of games instead of running the court and continuing to score points. With the acquisition of Jefferson and the exit of Bowen, the mentality of the team switched from defensive to offensive. Just don’t tell their coach. It has become commonplace for the team to build a large lead with offensive firepower, then fail late because of defensive struggles. If the Spurs hope to be alive come playoff time, they’ll have to take a serious look at their philosophy and quit wondering what went wrong night after night.
As for me, I’ll just keep holding down my panic button.
Brandon Land is the founder and sole writer for View from the Bench Sports, found at www.viewfromthebench.com