Opening Statements: Wizards vs Spurs, Game 4 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Spurs, Game 4

Updated: November 4, 2015

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

The Wizards have played the Spurs 98 times in 39 years. In that time, San Antonio has 59 wins to Washington’s 39. In the 21st century, the Spurs have won 26 of 30 contests. So that’s not great.

Tim Duncan, who recently set a new NBA record for the most wins with any team (954!), is 27-5 against the Wizards in his career. Tony Parker is 20-4, Manu Ginobili is 13-4. Kawhi Leonard is 3-0, having not played against the Wiz Kids since Nov. 2013. So that’s also not great.

There are two things working for the Wizards this go-round, however. First, this is one of the finest squads Washington has thrown on the floor in quite some time, and, while premature to assume at this time, it could end up being the best Wizards team Duncan and Co. have ever faced. And second, the Wizards won the most recent game! In the past 10 months (and a day), the Wizards are undefeated against the Spurs!

Granted, before that win came 17 consecutive losses. But, y’know, whatever.

The Spurs bowed out of the 2015 postseason in the first round, after a controversial Game 7 loss to the Clippers, and there was speculation they’d call it a dynasty. After all, the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio had 109 combined years under its belt (now 110) and Gregg Popovich is no spring chicken at 66 years old.

Instead, San Antonio undertook a massive retooling this offseason, letting role players such as Tiago Splitter (Atlanta), Marco Belinelli (Sacramento), Cory Joseph (Toronto), and Aron Baynes (Detroit) depart while welcoming top-tier talent in LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, and Rasual Butler (yeah, I said it).

The early returns are a mixed bag. San Antonio has played just four games, losing its opener to Oklahoma City but soundly beating a trio of Eastern Conference teams in Brooklyn, Boston, and New York. The Spurs’ Offensive Rating is a middling 99.5 (15th), but their defense has been stellar with a 90.5 Defensive Rating (3rd).

The big challenge for the Spurs will be incorporating a new max contract star—even if it’s more easily achieved in San Antonio than anywhere else. The Spurs have to adjust their playing style (perhaps only slightly) to accommodate Aldridge’s skill set and maximize the roster’s outrageous potential. Belinelli, now with the Kings, was one of the team’s best 3-point shooters, going 212-for-523 (.405) over the past two seasons. Aldridge developed into a 3-point threat in Portland last season, going 37-for-105 after attempting just 116 in his first eight years in the league, but he’s never going to produce at the clip Belinelli was, and Popovich won’t turn him into a 3-point specialist, anyway.

As a result of losing Belinelli and adding two big men in Aldridge and West, San Antonio is uncharacteristically lurking near the bottom of the league in 3-point shooting. The Spurs have attempted just 69 triples through four games, and most recently went just 4-for-13 from deep against the Knicks. Conversely, Washington has put up 71 3-pointers in its three games.

The Wizards are also going through a significant transition, albeit in an almost opposite direction. Washington lost an aging Hall of Famer in Paul Pierce and replaced him with role players. And while the Spurs are all in on winning now, the Wizards would like to sniff top-level play but are really angling toward a big score in the summer of 2016.

Randy Wittman’s new offense looks promising but flawed, like an ambitious baby taking his first questing steps. There have been some bumps and bruises, and despite the 2-1 record, Washington could be anywhere from 0-3 to 3-0 with a few different bounces of the ball (or fingers, or toes).

San Antonio represents the first real challenge for this retooled Wizards squad, as it’s easily the most talented roster Washington has seen yet, but make no mistake, both teams still have their early-season training wheels on.

Kicking his boots up with TAI is Caleb Saenz (@calebjsaenz) from the excellent Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell.

Teams: Wizards vs Spurs
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center – Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Spurs fav’d by 4 points.

Q #1: How has the LaMarcus Aldridge experiment in San Antonio gone so far? What’s the biggest difference in the way the team runs with him compared to the past few seasons?

@calebjsaenz: Gleaning big takeaways from a four-game sample size is a fool’s errand, so I’m going to go ahead and do just that! The LaMarcus Aldridge experiment is a smashing success! Now, it just hasn’t been successful in the way we all expected.

The defense with Aldridge on the floor has barely missed a beat, no small thing in the wake of losing Tiago Splitter’s post presence. Somewhat predictably, the offense has sputtered a bit as the team starts to figure things out. Aldridge has looked better each game, as the Spurs have continued to feed him the ball quite a bit. That’s part of his game, to be sure, but a lot of this dependence on isolation feels like confidence building from Popovich. The Spurs offense will absolutely run more iso plays than last season with Aldridge, but people miss that the Spurs were headed this way anyway, albeit not as aggressively, with Kawhi Leonard’s emergence.

Q #2: How has the power dynamic shifted from Parker-Ginobili-Duncan to Leonard-Green-Aldridge?

@calebjsaenzI see where you’re going with this, but right now, I’d say the Spurs’ current Big 3 is actually the Leonard/Duncan/Aldridge triumvirate. (Danny Green’s defense has been great to start the season, but his shot has been virtually nonexistent.) Duncan has been fantastic to start, and his remarkable consistency has made that power dynamic shift easier for everybody involved. The Spurs went to their motion heavy offense in part because their core guys needed to be able to play less as their ability to score efficiently in iso plays faded with age. I suppose the latest shift to an offense that allows Leonard and Aldridge to simply go to work could be seen as something of a regression, but the Spurs have always played to the strengths of the team they have. It just so happens that the team now has a dynamic offensive post presence and a terrifying, two-way claw monster.

Q #3: How long do you think it takes before the new roster is fully in sync and functioning at its maximum power?

@calebjsaenzDanny Green said recently he expects the team to start hitting a stride sometime in December. That sounds fair looking at their schedule, which is pretty light up until then. Maximum power sounds so … intense. I’m going to give the typical Spurs answer and say they’ll be really dangerous right around their famed “Rodeo Road Trip.

Q #4: I thought the addition of David West was really underrated. The sample size is obviously small, but how has he looked coming off the bench so far, especially paired with a big man like Boris Diaw, whose playing style is completely different than Roy Hibbert’s?

@calebjsaenz: David West’s acclimation to the team has been odd. Up until the season started in earnest, everything out of training camp told us the second unit was the one that had really figured things out. In practices and scrimmages, it was West’s team that was rolling. But when the season started, the West/Diaw tandem was exposed on defense, and Popovich has had to adapt how he spreads those reserves around. Lately, he’s been avoiding pairing West with Diaw, and I think West has looked more comfortable in a traditional power forward spot next to either Duncan or Aldridge. I agree with you, though. The West addition was underrated. Just a few contests ago, West was the tenth Spur to enter the game. Tenth! That’s just silly. All the Spurs’ issues with fitting new guys in right now are the equivalent of First World NBA Problems.

Q #5: Parker-Ginobili-Duncan just passed Bird-McHale-Parish for the most wins ever by a trio. Do you have a favorite moment or game among those 541 wins?

@calebjsaenzYou don’t get to 541 wins without making a ton of great memories. There are a lot of awesome individual moments—Duncan hitting that crazy 3 against Phoenix in the 2008 playoffs, Parker’s clutch shot in Game 1 in the 2013 Finals, Manu hitting the game-winning 3 against Golden State that same postseason—but my personal favorite was when the trio won the title in 2014. I was fortunate enough to be in the building for Game 5, watching the confetti fall as my ears rang from all the noise, so I’m absolutely biased here. (It was also on my first Father’s Day as a dad.) But picking that as the best moment makes a lot of sense. In all likelihood, that was the last run and the last series where each member of the greatest Big 3 in NBA history would have his own big moment and big game. Even if they manage to win a title this year, I just can’t imagine that being the case ever again. 2014 was their last hurrah in that way, and it was perfect.

Bryan Frantz on EmailBryan Frantz on LinkedinBryan Frantz on Twitter
Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.