Opening Statements: Wizards at Spurs, Game 33 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Spurs, Game 33

Updated: January 3, 2015


Washington Wizards vs San Antonio Spurs - Nov. 26, 2012

Here we are, again, facing a franchise of the utmost envy.

Everyone wants to be the boring old Spurs. Or at least to replicate their consistency, establishment, and institutionalism—the latter two never really being bad words in the sporting world, the reality in which some of us have chosen to live. (Imaging the misery if “Truth About” were a Washington, D.C., political blog.)

San Antonio has trumped Washington in a basketball aristocracy 16 straight times since November 2005, when 43 dazzling points from Gilbert Arenas gave Washington a 15-point win. The Wizards have beaten the Spurs two other times in the 2000s, one coming just prior to the aforementioned win thanks to 35 points from Antawn Jamison that helped give his team a 12-point victory in February 2005.

Before that, New Year’s Eve 2002. The Wizards needed overtime to beat the Spurs in Washington, 105-103, with a ‘one day we’ll look back at this and laugh’ starting lineup of ‘the’ Michael Jordan, Larry Hughes, Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, and Brendan Haywood. Etan Thomas, Kwame Brown, Tyronn Lue, and Bryon Russell came off the bench that night to help supplant the Spurs, led by Tim Duncan’s 35 points. David Robinson, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, Steve Smith, Malik Rose, Steve Kerr, Danny Ferry, and Manu Ginobili were also there. Duncan, at the time, was not yet 25. Do we feel old and futile yet?

My entire twenties and damn near half of my thirties have passed since the pro basketball franchise from the nation’s capital last won in close proximity to the Alamo—December 11, 1999. Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard, something or another…

Last time out in south Texas, Nov. 13, 2013, the Spurs served the Wizards with just the classiest of 13-point beat downs—at least John Wall gave us a rare double-block off the glass. Randy Wittman’s team was down to Kawhi Leonard, 8-0, before they knew that hit them. Thankfully—aw, shucks, perhaps it doesn’t matter—Leonard will be unavailable this evening due to injury.

The young Wizards tried to get one back at home in early-February, 2014, but lost by seven points in double overtime. Out of intermission and perhaps out of #WittmanJava, Washington’s 14-point halftime lead was soon deflated by the would-be champs and, ultimately, it was San Antonio’s poise that endured. Also: Patty Mills.

With that depressing intro, we move along to the Q&A portion of the opening statements and hope that for the first time in 15 years (or, to be more exacting like San Antonio’s offense, 5,502 days), things will be a little bit different.

Stopping by TAI today to answer some questions is Jessie Blanchard (@blanchardJRB), artist and Spurs follower for years who now has his own website, Indubitably Hoops, where I took part in a pre-game Q&A. Kick that boot, roll that spur, leggo…

Teams: Wizards at Spurs
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Venue: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Spurs fav’d by 6 points.

Q #1: Do the San Antonio Spurs care about playoff seeding? And is Gregg Popovich doing anything different with minutes management this season, or rotations?

@blanchardJRB: During last year’s championship run, the Spurs famously kept every player on their roster from averaging 30 minutes per game, a first for the NBA. They did so while providing a number of rest days for their best players, regardless of who their opponent was on any given night. The Spurs only care about what they can control, and so they go about their process oblivious to the standings trusting results will follow.

This year injuries have forced Popovich’s hand, and four players are over that 30-minute mark. They’ve leaned heavily on Duncan especially at 34.5 minutes per game in December. The Spurs are deep, but that depth is tied to key players that work as hubs. With Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli/Kyle Anderson starting for Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs haven’t had enough offensive punch in the starting lineup and very little stability in the combinations Popovich puts on the court—pair Joseph and Danny Green without Manu Ginobili and the offense tanks. Take them out and they get lit up on the perimeter. I wrote a little about it after the Spurs loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The return of Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills helps, and Popovich did some interesting things with his rotation against the New Orleans Pelicans, separating the Duncan-Splitter frontcourt and using hockey-style line shifts. The starters (Joseph, Green, Kyle Anderson, Matt Bonner, and Duncan) struggled again, but the key was getting 17 minutes out of the Foreign Legion second unit (Mills, Ginobili, Belinelli, Boris Diaw, and Splitter), which makes sense because it’s the one lineup with continuity from last year.

Q #2: The Spurs are currently the 7-seed. With OKC approaching and New Orleans playing well, at what point do you get concerned about maybe missing the playoffs?

@blanchardJRB: There’s no concern in San Antonio about the Spurs missing the playoffs. The worst part of the schedule is over, and that they survived such a brutal month (18 games crammed into December against mostly the Western Conference elite, many in back-to-back settings) bodes well for the team moving forward provided there are no further injury setbacks. A less condensed schedule against lesser opponents, combined with a return to health and a little bit of luck (the overtime losses came at the hands of some improbable shots), should right the ship. The bigger concern is how overexerting Duncan and Ginobili now will toll their legs in April and May.

Q #3: Talk to me about Cory Joseph (whom cohort John C. Townsend wanted to trade for at one point). He’s going to be a restricted FA this summer. Give a quick season evaluation to-date and general thoughts going forward.

@blanchardJRB: Cory Joseph has been better than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, which is to say he’s become a solid, viable rotation player. A pleasant surprise. That being said, there was talk of him fighting Mills for minutes once Parker returns, which means people are getting ahead of themselves in the same way they did with George Hill.

Joseph will be a rotation player somewhere in the NBA next year, I’m just not sure he’s a good fit with the Spurs. He’s a caretaker point guard that can get the offense in its sets, get to his favorite midrange areas at the end of shot clocks, and get to the rim in a pinch. He’s got decent NBA size and athleticism with a great motor and willing defender.

But when he’s running the offense, the tempo drags some, Duncan’s usage spikes, and the game can become a grind. He doesn’t hold much gravity off the ball, so he’s not as effective playing next to a dominant ball handler, though he’s willing and done OK quickly attacking closeouts to mitigate his lack of 3-point shooting.

Basically his improvements are legitimate but haven’t translated to the overall health of the offense. Parker’s playmaking props up the offense in the Spurs’ best defensive lineups, where Duncan and Splitter cause spacing problems. Manu Ginobili works best alongside Mills, who pushes the pace and provides spacing around the Ginobili-Splitter pick-and-roll.

I’ve been trying to place Joseph’s best fit in today’s NBA and right now my theory is he’d do well in a post-heavy offense, making entry passes, getting out of the way, attacking closeouts on kickouts, creating at the end of a shot clock, and providing great energy on both ends of the floor. It’s not that he’s been bad, quite the opposite. But the best possible versions of the Spurs don’t include him on the court and he’s become too good to stay in a third string role.

Q #4: Most surprising (in a good way) player or thing about the Spurs this year?

@blanchardJRB: Matt Bonner is a better NBA player than he’s ever been and an entertaining off-the-dribble force. But the best surprise has been the subtle improvements of Danny Green. Perhaps the key to the Spurs return has been the wing tandem of Green and Leonard. And when Green has faltered, so have the Spurs. A streak shooter whose body of work adds up to a net positive, Green has added a few subtle layers to his game. He’s no longer a train wreck in transition or driving past closeouts. He’s dropped the wild floater attempts, taking under control layups and getting a few more free throws. He’s made nice pocket passes on the move, and better reads overall. He’s second among all guards in blocked shots, is perhaps the best in the league at breaking up transition opportunities, and has a quick release with range. In short, he’s getting PAID this summer.

Q #5: Most surprising (in a bad way) player or thing about the Spurs this year?

@blanchardJRB: The most disappointing part of the season so far has been the injuries. Tony Parker’s hamstrings are officially concerning, as they’ve been issues in each of the last two playoff runs and are making an early appearance this year. Kawhi Leonard has a hand injury the team doctor says he hasn’t seen in his 40 years working and the team is missing valuable time installing him as a primary option—he’s best working out of the post, which changes the spacing dynamics and tempo.

Last time in San Antonio…


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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.