The Daily Six Shooter 3-24-11

Photos by Bradford Harrison

1. The San Antonio Spurs have played a full game without Tim Duncan before this season, but not against a team as good as the Denver Nuggets or playing as well as Denver. And for more than three quarters, the Spurs played good enough to hold a lead, but then they collapsed. San Antonio went for a five minute stretch without a field goal and that allowed Denver to turn a deficit they faced since the tip-off into a lead at home late in the 4th quarter.

A seven point lead in the 4th quarter in Denver had the crowd out of the game because, with only a couple of exceptions, San Antonio had complete control of the game and looked like they’d be able to ride out another victory in Denver. But then the Spurs lost control. The Nuggets couldn’t miss and the Spurs failed to get quality shots on the offensive end.

The big thing that San Antonio missed was Tim Duncan’s steady hand and leadership on the floor. If you look at the numbers in the box score, the game seems pretty even. What the Spurs missed without Duncan couldn’t be read in the box score, or even really detected by just watching the game because the difference was so subtle and yet so significant.

One of the things that San Antonio wasn’t able to do was run after grabbing a defensive rebound. As well as Tony Parker played in this game, shooting well in a 19-point effort, almost none of those points came on a fast-break. San Antonio is one of the league leaders in fast break points, but they only scored two against Denver last night. The next time Duncan plays in a game, watch what he does after he grabs a rebound. Most of the time, the ball is in his hands for less than a second. He’s played with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili so long that he can immediately identify where they are on the court, analyze if he’s throwing a dangerous pass, and then hit them in stride so that they can continue streaking down the court for some easy points.

On the more obvious side, they missed his presence in the low block offensively. Sure, the Spurs scored more points in the paint in this game and grabbed more rebounds, but they really missed his ability to work with his back to the basket and take control of the game when the team needed him to slow down and get a big bucket down the stretch when the team was struggling offensively. Without Duncan, Tiago Splitter is the only one that works that way offensively. The best quality shot that Antonio McDyess gets is a mid-range jumper and DeJuan Blair doesn’t have that low post game enough to use it often. Splitter shot just 1-5 from the field and only played 17 minutes, so the Spurs will have to find a better way to slow down the game and still get a quality basket.

There’s no column in the scorebook for moral victories, but it’s clear how well San Antonio was playing through more than three quarters and what was missing that cost them the game. So hopefully Gregg Popovich can make the necessary adjustments and keep the team from going into a free fall. One thing is for certain, Tim Duncan is a lot more valuable than most people give him credit for.

2. Who’s going to step up with a headline-grabbing game next?

That seems to be the question everyone who follows the Houston Rockets is asking. After Kyle Lowry put up great numbers last week, including a triple-double, and was named the Western Conference Player of the Week, Chuck Hayes gave Houston their 2nd triple double in less than a week with 13 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Houston was able to wear down Golden State with steady play and contributions all around. Hayes’ triple-double overshadowed Kevin Martin’s 32 points and eerily similar games from Lowry and Hayes. Each had 13 points and combined for 23 assists. It’s not every day that a point guard and center put up those kinds of numbers in the same game, but it goes to show that the difference in a game where two teams played so well offensively was ball distribution. Houston had six players in double figures, taking a page from the San Antonio Spurs winning strategy this season.

The Rockets have now matched their season-high with a five game winning streak, but it’ll be put to the test on Sunday when they start a three-game road trip in Miami.

3. Sadly, Houston wasn’t able to gain any ground on the Memphis Grizzlies, who sit in the 8th and final playoff spot in the West and who won in Boston last night. Memphis looked really good at the Garden and played better than most teams have on the road against the Celtics. The Grizzlies’ next two games are against Chicago and San Antonio, but the schedule gets considerably easier after that. The Rockets may have more luck rooting for New Orleans to slip out of the playoff picture than Memphis because the Grizzlies are playing well and New Orleans is playing inconsistent at best. The Hornets sit in the 7th spot right now, but they’ve been steadily falling for over a month now and have games against the Lakers, Trailblazers, Rockets, Mavericks, and play the Grizzlies twice before the season is over.

While it seemed unlikely when I was talking to my friend Elliot last week, this dream playoff scenario just might happen:

#1 San Antonio vs #8 Houston
#2 LA Lakers vs #7 Memphis
#3 Dallas vs #6 Denver
#4 Oklahoma City vs #5 Portland

I’d want to watch every minute of the OKC-Portland matchup because LaMarcus Aldridge is having a breakout season and watching he and Kevin Durant (both Texas Longhorns) go back and forth for at least six games would be amazing. There’d be one game where they both would score 40 and it would be epic.

4. Some of the biggest shots in San Antonio Spurs history have been hit by former Arizona Wildcats. There was Sean Elliot with his Memorial Day Miracle in 1999 and Steve Kerr delivering a knockout punch to the Dallas Mavericks in 2003. After seeing Derrick Williams light up the Pac-10 this season and eliminate the Texas Longhorns in this year’s NCAA Tournament, they both agree that he’s the best Wildcat since Elliot played in Tucson. But, as Buck Harvey wrote in the San Antonio Express-News, Elliot will forever be #1 in Arizona.

5. So much for trying to crack the starting lineup. As Evan Grant reports for the Dallas Morning-News, the Texas Rangers announced their 2011 starting rotation and Neftali Feliz didn’t make the cut.

6. Finally, Dallas Cowboys fans “earned” some notoriety from GQ as the magazine released a list of the 15 worst fan bases in sports. Cowboys fans came in a modest 12th place on the list.

Among the reasons is the “insufferable” reference to Dallas as “America’s Team” and divergence between the fans gloating and the team’s success the past 15 years. Although Cowboys fans will be happy to learn that they’re not the highest ranked NFL fan-base on the list. Oakland Raiders fans are 4th and ranked highest in the league is… you guessed it… Philadelphia Eagles fans, who by no surprise to anyone share the top spot with the Phillies.

About Javi Perez

Javi Perez is a contributing editor with Playmaker Magazine heading up the sports desk, as well as covering the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Texas Longhorns, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, film, and TV. He currently lives in San Antonio.