In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Manu and Millsap demonstrate Spurs and Jazz Basketball - If you're not bleeding, you're not playing hard enough. Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Tim Duncan v. Al Jefferson & Company
Tim Duncan (AKA the Big Fundamental, AKA a quiet, boring, dominant MVP) is getting old. He’s 34 years old and this will be his 14th season in the league. For his career, he’s averaged 21.1 points per game to go along with 11.6 rebounds. Much to the chagrin of John Stockton and Karl Malone, David Robinson pegs Duncan as the best power forward ever to play the game (for a extended discussion comparing Duncan and Malone, check out this posting). Duncan is a lock for the Hall of Fame, for sure. Last season, his numbers dropped a bit, but he still averaged 17 points and 10 boards. He may be getting old, but don’t count him out – his fundamentals serve him well, on both offense and defense.
In the sweep-clenching game last year, Duncan scored just 14 points (leaving his career point total at 19,999 – he’d pass 20K two nights later against Houston). In that effort, Duncan went 1-5 against Millsap (for 2 points) and 1-7 against Okur (for 5 points). Against other defenders, Duncan went 3-3 for 7 points. Al, Paul, Memo and company will guard Duncan by committee, as usual. The youth and depth of the Jazz ought to translate to reduced output from the Senior Statesman from San Antonio.
Tony Parker v. D-Will
When healthy, Tony Parker must be included in the discussion of the top five point guards in the league. Unfortunately, Mr. Eva Longoria watched a good chunk of last season from the bench. Never finding a rhythm during the year, he posted average numbers – 16 points and 5.7 dimes. A breakout season may be looming – his contract expires at season’s end and Parker will be playing for a raise. If he stays healthy, he ought to have a pretty decent year. Playing against Utah in only 3 of the 4 games last season, Parker averaged 21 points and 3.3 assists. Parker gives up nearly 30 pounds to D-Will, so look for D-Will to work him into the paint and find the open man once the double-team comes. Deron didn’t dominate him as he could have last year, but he was the far superior play-maker. If this matchup is decided on the court (rather than by injuries), this should be fun to watch.
High Notes | Low Notes
Like Boston, San Antonio is flirting with the upper-age-threshold for success. The starting five for the Spurs (Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, and Duncan) combine for 53 seasons of NBA experience. Granted, there are still some miles on their collective tires, but the tread is starting to wear thin. Despite their age (or because of their experience), the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals last year, only to be swept by Phoenix.
This team is good. The organization is sound. Coach Pop knows what he’s doing. The players know that they are on a perennial playoff team that can contend for a title. Unless their age and/or injuries catch up with them, San Antonio will continue to be a winner.
The Spurs lead the all-time series 82-72. Prior to last season’s four-game sweep on the Spurs, Utah hadn’t won in San Antonio since February 28, 1999. It was the first season-sweep of the Spurs since 1993-1994. During that dominance of the Jazz, the Spurs reached Dynasty-Status, winning championships in 1999 and 2003 on the backs of Duncan and the Admiral David Robinson, and ‘chips in 2005 and 2007 with stars Duncan, Parker and Ginobili (“GINOBILI!”).
Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich are the two longest tenured coaches in the league. Though the coaching carousel continues each season, the benches in San Antonio and Salt Lake City never seem to change.
Tim Duncan was one of three players to post their 20,000th career point last season. Joining him in the feat were Dallas’ Dirk Nowitski and Boston’s Ray Allen.
Notorious sixth-man Manu Ginobili will actually start for the Spurs this year. He started only 21 games last season when filling in for an injured Tony Parker. Much like Sloan, Coach Pop likes to toy with the line-up. Don’t be too surprised if Manu returns to the bench, but still puts up starter’s minutes.
Many think that the window on their dynasty is closed. With a elite head coach like Pop and quality, veteran talent, they could still surprise some people this season. My best guess, though, is that age and injuries will keep San Antonio from seriously challenging in the West once the playoffs roll around. The Jazz only face the Spurs three times this season (twice in Utah). I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that San Antonio will steal one from Utah at home (maybe on Jan. 26th after the Jazz fly in late from a game against the Lakers on Jan. 25th?). Utah showed us last year that it is capable of winning in the Alamodome – Utah takes this series 2-1 this year.
Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [AT] gmail [DOT] com