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January Schedule Presents Opportunity for Surging San Antonio Spurs

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJanuary 6, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 16:  DeJuan Blair #45 of the San Antonio Spurs in action during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 16, 2009 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Antonio offense took the night off in Toronto, and some foul free throw shooting sunk the Spurs against the defenseless Raptors.

That blemish and a home stinker against the crippled Portland Trail Blazers aside, the Spurs have won 11 of 14, with a 20-12 record on which to build and sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference. That makes success this month all the more important, with a road-heavy February and March on the horizon.

The team will play two back-to-backs—hosting the Lakers and visiting the Thunder, then visiting the Bobcats and Grizzlies on consecutive nights. Seven of the 14 foes remaining on the slate boast losing records, and the only winning squad the Spurs face on the road is Oklahoma City.

The Good News

The Spurs are clobbering those sub-.500 squads by an average of 13 points. Those who do not follow the team might not remember how many cellar dwellers forced San Antonio into tough fourth quarter and overtime finishes last year.

Breezy victories mean more rest for the veterans, including Tim Duncan, and a template for how to play against the big boys.

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Against most hapless units, Richard Jefferson has looked like a tremendous investment, dunking and defending his way to impact status.

The defense has continued to improve, both in points allowed and opponent field goal percentage.

Gregg Popovich's squad will carry a point differential into tomorrow night's joust with the woeful Detroit Pistons just two behind the defending champion L.A. Lakers.

The Spurs have won the points in the paint and rebounding battles against 70 percent of their opponents.

Two of the rotation players, Dejuan Blair and George Hill, are 20 and 23 respectively. Popovich will expect both to play 10-20 minutes a night in the playoffs.

Tony Parker is just 27, and Keith Bogans, Jefferson, Matt Bonner, and Roger Mason are each 29.

Duncan is averaging a career-low 31.8 minutes per game, a number that could drop to the high 20s if the Spurs take care of business this month.

Blair still ranks near the top of the list of rookie rebounders. He hauls down nearly six a game to go with his seven-point average.

Mason appears to have found his long-range stroke after a dismal start in which he connected on only 31 percent of his trey attempts. He shed some weight in the offseason to increase his quickness, and his game around the basket and playmaking have improved considerably.

McDyess has always been a second-half-of-the-season player, one reason not to fret about his modest five-point, five-rebound average.

With Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony sidelined, the Denver Nuggets appear to be in freefall mode.

The injured-to-the-point-of-absurdity Portland Trail Blazers will start to feel the effects of a roster with only eight available players, two of which the front office acquired with a hardship exception.

The Utah Jazz are losing like Charles Barkley and Antoine Walker together in a Vegas casino.

The New Orleans Hornets, even at full strength, look like a .500 team.

The Grizzlies drubbed the Suns at U.S. Airways Center, further proof Phoenix does not belong in the contender conversation.

The Spurs host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, perhaps a chance to tie for or take the Southwest Division lead.

The Bad

With a favorable schedule that had them playing more home games than any other Western Conference squad save the L.A. Lakers, the Spurs have wasted the chance to seize control of the second spot out West and perhaps keep pace with the champs.

Fans should have expected growing pains, but time for that excuse has expired. As Popovich put it, the team needs "to start beating the big boys."

The Spurs have beaten only three squads with winning records in 13 tries. Even the biggest of silver and black homers would tell you that's awful. If the Heat slip into another losing slump, that list dwindles to two.

The team lacks a signature victory outside the state of Texas.

Jefferson must show and do more against winning outfits. His lack of second-half production against those big boys remains a worry.

McDyess is 35, and as each year passes, his ability to turn it on in stretch run before the playoffs will lessen.

What? No mention of Manu Ginobili, the key to another title? Check this site tomorrow for a piece on the Argentine slasher. His situation deserves its own column.

Prognosis

A month with 10 home games represents the semi-calm before the tsunami. The Spurs had better take advantage of this stretch.

Winning all of those contests at the AT&T Center is a must. A sweep of the month is doable, though the Thunder seem to play the Spurs as tough as the Bobcats do the Lakers.

A one-loss month would be spectacular. Heading into February with a winning road-record is paramount.

Traditionally their worst month, now January must be their best.

Here's a look at the schedule:

Wed 06 vs Detroit  7:30pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Fri 08 vs Dallas  7:30pm KENS HD  WOAI-AM 1200
 Sun 10 vs New Jersey  6:00pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Tue 12 vs LA Lakers  7:30pm My35 HD  WOAI-AM 1200
 Wed 13 @ Oklahoma City   7:00pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Fri 15 @ Charlotte   6:00pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Sat 16 @ Memphis   7:00pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Mon 18 @ New Orleans   2:30pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Wed 20 vs Utah  8:00pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Fri 22 vs Houston  7:30pm KENS HD  WOAI-AM 1200
 Mon 25 vs Chicago  7:30pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Wed 27 vs Atlanta  7:30pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Fri 29 vs Memphis  7:30pm FSNSW  WOAI-AM 1200
 Sun 31 vs Denver  12:00pm   WOAI-AM 1200
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