This morning, we turn our focus to the Spurs, who have been playing well as of late. They’re only 3-2 in their last five, but watching their last few games seems like they’re on a five game winning streak. I know they did not play well in Orlando, and lost to Atlanta, but Manu Ginobili has been playing like the old Manu and George Hill has been playing very well in place of the injured Tony Parker. Even though the Spurs have stuggled for much of this season against playoff caliber teams, tonight’s game against Tim Duncan and Co. will be no walk through the park as they have not lost in San Antonio since January 31st.
An early preview from Basket Blog: As has become typical of Gregg Popovich Spurs teams, the Silver and Black are picking up their play as the playoffs approach, even with starting point guard Tony Parker going on the shelf on March 6 with a hand injury, due to return in mid April. In fact, the Spurs have gone 9-3 in March* after a 6-5 February, their only three losses coming at Cleveland by two points, at Orlando and at Atlanta in overtime.?*This comes as no surprise, since the Spurs are the NBA’s best March team since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, going 152-54 for a .738 winning percentage (L.A. is second at 134-69, .660).??In related news, Manu Ginobili has been playing like … a healthy Manu Ginobili, averaging 21.2 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range in March. Throw in solid bench production, Tim Duncan’s consistency and an improving Richard Jefferson and the Spurs are dangerous. “(Ginobili’s improved play) helps a lot and I think their bench has been very successful,” said Jackson said after the team photo on Tuesday. “They had a game the other night against Golden State where (Tim) Duncan played 13 minutes and it was one of the highest scoring games they’ve ever had. It just says something about their bench coming to life and their players all supporting one another.”
Post-practice interviews on the Lakers issues and tonight’s game from Land O’ Lakers: Wednesday will feature the Lakers mano y’ mano with the Spurs, a showdown these squads have grown extraordinarily familiar with over the last 10-plus years. As Kobe Bryant noted, “We could run their plays and they could could run ours.” These battles have largely ended in the Larry O’Brien swapped back and forth between Kobe and Tim Duncan. The two haven’t just collected rings during the 2000′s, they’ve arguably been the two best players of the recent decade. I know I’d tab them as such. Still, The Big Fundamental, as his nickname implies, has never been the flashiest or most demonstrative of players, generally content to go about his business and film the occasional Adidas commercial. Even as a 12-time All-Star, Duncan’s low key persona has sometimes meant flying under the radar compared against other superstars. But Kobe’s not losing too much sleep a lunch pail persona has resulted in Timmy being somehow under-appreciated: “They already call him the greatest power forward of all time,” smiled Bryant. “How much more do you want? For that matter, Kobe’s playing no sad violins over the Spurs’ downward slide in the standings this season, despite having gone unhappily through a similar situation in 2006 and 2007. Asked what he felt for the Spurs’ plight, Kobe’s answer was fairly succinct: “Nothing.”
After Tonight’s game, the Spurs will play LeBron James and the Cavs. 48 Minutes of Hell talk about playing the league’s two best players back-to-back and the Kobe v. LeBron debate:
Texas is no stranger to intense debates, having long been the national hotbed for our public education system’s creationism vs. evolution discussion. Over the next few days a different sort of debate will play out in the AT&T Center, one that still challenges longstanding values and beliefs. Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, which one is the best player in the NBA? Ask Tim Duncan, who at one point in his career could make a pretty convincing argument for himself, and he’d probably answer Kobe on Wednesday and LeBron on Friday. As far as opponents go, the San Antonio Spurs will never face better players in consecutive games. And Texas may not ever again be privy to as heated a sports debate. For all the high-flying wings that have been built up as the next air apparent, from Grant Hill and Vince Carter to Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade, it’s been Kobe Bryant who has come closest to Michael Jordan. His career arch mirroring Jordan–transforming from high-flying scorer to coldblooded midrange tactician–Bryant has been mistakenly labeled at times as the greatest player throughout the past decade.
There was a bit of good news on Luke Walton’s progress reported yesterday, we learned that he is looking to be back with the team by April, and he practiced with the team yesterday. After practice, Ron Artest told reporters that he “wasn’t aware of the Lakers six-game winning streak” and told Bill Plaschke that Trevor Ariza was a better player than he and probably fit in better with the Lakers:
The long list of those who think the Lakers miss Trevor Ariza just increased by one. Even Ron Artest agrees? ”He’s a better player than me,” Artest said Tuesday. But Ron-Ron, nobody ever said he was better, we just said he was a better fit.” He’s a better player,” Artest repeated emphatically. “He’s won a ring, I haven’t. I can’t even compare to him. He’s a better player.” Artest also agrees, incidentally, with the part about Ariza being a better fit.” He probably is,” Artest said. “He’s a role player, a great role player. I haven’t been a role player. Many times I’ve had to carry the load, this is a different look for me.” It is this different look that has some of the Lakers covering their eyes. Entering the season’s final stretch, basketball’s wackiest star is performing his nuttiest act yet. Ron Artest is barely raising an eyebrow. He hasn’t figured out the flow of the Lakers offense this season, he has sometimes seemed a step slow on defense, and he’s made little impact on the team’s toughness. In a move engineered by the Buss family last summer, Artest was signed here from the Houston Rockets to replace Ariza, who then signed with Houston, after balking at the Lakers’ contract offer.
Finally, Kurt over at Pro Basketball Talk has the latest update on Phil Jackson’s contract negotiations with Jerry Buss:
Phil Jackson does not have a contract to coach the Lakers next year. That fact has led to a lot of speculation and talk — from a struggle for control within the Buss family to Jackson leaving Los Angeles to coach the Knicks next year.
Jerry Buss would like to remind you that last year at this time Jackson did not have a contract. Same with the year before that, Buss said in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com.
We really want to get through the year and then take a deep breath and see where we are. If I were to go to Phil right now and say, “Will you coach next year?” he’d say, “Well, let’s wait until the end of the year and see how I feel.” So, I don’t think it causes any tension. I know I have to wait until season’s end before a discussion begins.