Spurs at Timberwolves (Mexico City)
8:30 pm Central
NBA TV, FSN
The Wolves have been in Mexico City for the last couple of days preparing for the Spurs and the altitude, while touring around under heavy security.
Jerry Zgoda writes that, not surprisingly, Spanish speakers J.J. Barea and Ricky Rubio have been the most popular Wolves.
There is a game to play tonight, however; the first of three meetings (none at Target Center) with the San Antonio Spurs, who continue to roll along well into their second decade of excellence. They come into the game at 15-3, tied for the top spot in the West.
Once again, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have put together an incredibly deep and potent team that is full of smart players who do what they are supposed to, and the results follow. Tony Parker leads the team in minutes per game...at 31 per. Nobody else even averages 28 a night. As usual, players come to the Spurs, and due to whatever magic goes on there, play great basketball. Perhaps it's the system, perhaps it's better defined roles, perhaps it's, as has been suggested, league-permitted excessive physicality, but they win.
Marco Belinelli, a career ,42% shooter (39% from three) is shooting .52% (56% from three) so far this year. Obviously he won't shoot like that all year long, but yikes. Belinelli. Boris Diaw. Danny Green. They go to the Spurs, and their careers change. Patrick Mills is shooting 45% from three backing up Parker. Patty Mills!
Veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have been healthy this year so far, a big thing especially for Manu, who has missed big chunks of time in recent seasons. He's back to doing Ginobili things, making shots and being a playmaker off the bench, as he's second to Parker on the team in assists. Duncan is no longer a dominant offensive force, but still gets the ball, though his shooting has been somewhat off so far.
This year's iteration of the Spurs really shines on defense, however, as they have the 2nd rated unit in the NBA. They commit the fewest fouls (and give up the least free throws) in the league, are 2nd in defensive rebounding, and second in opponent efg%. So that's a pretty good combination. (It's worth noting for those who follow officiating that they also never get to the line themselves. Very low-foul games with the Spurs).
Digging a bit deeper, we find that the Spurs are among the best teams in the league at defending the rim. They give up relatively few shot attempts within five feet, and have the 3rd best FGA% against in league on those shots, behind only the Pacers and the Bobcats. Much of the credit for this must go to their "twin towers" of Duncan and Tiago Splitter, who have been starting up front most nights. Duncan still seems able to get it done defensively, and Splitter, who has been quietly excellent since arriving in the NBA, appears to be taking his game to a new level this season.
It's hard to find a weakness to try and exploit with this year. I suppose I would try to make them guard Love at the three point line, as Duncan, who will probably be on him isn't as good in space. Hopefully they can get Love free from the arc, and also open up the middle a bit by pulling one of the Spurs bigs to the perimeter. Regardless of the Spurs' success defending the paint, the Wolves, as always, must try to get Pekovic the ball as well.
The obvious problem for the Wolves in this matchup, as it often is, is the comparative depth. The Spurs go very deep with quality players and never tire their main guys out. It could make for a problematic fourth quarter if the Wolves main guys have to play heavy minutes to stay in the game.
Spurs "at" Wolves in Mexico City. Should be a good watch. Do you think a call was placed from the league to Popovich "encouraging" him to bring his full roster for this one?
Get the Spurs perspective at the excellent Pounding The Rock.