Spurs off on their annual Rodeo Road Trip

The annual Rodeo Road trip for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs commences tonight with a game in Memphis and ends 19-days later, on February 23rd with a game against the Denver Nuggets.

Before the Spurs had a chance to begin their now famous road trip, the entire franchise received a scare when F/C Tim Duncan went down against the Washington Wizards last night at the AT&T Center.  It was such a moment that even Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman was concerned.

”That was scary when you see that,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. ”Those are always the ones you don’t want to see when a guy falls into you while your feet are planted on the ground. I just talked to his doctors and they said he is going to be fine.”

Tony Parker spoke to reporters after the game.

“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Parker said. “It’s nothing big. I’m sure (coach Pop) is going to be very conscious about his knee and we’ll see.”

The Spurs will face Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Golden State, Phoenix and Denver.


Spurs’ trip to Miami a Heat check

By Jeff McDonald

MIAMI — The Spurs take the floor this afternoon at American Airlines Arena, at long last prepared to square off with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat.

Only about four months too late.

Last June, the Spurs appeared all but ticketed for a trip to South Beach before Oklahoma City ambushed them in the final four games of the Western Conference finals.

Today’s preseason game in Miami isn’t filled with as much meaning as an NBA Finals matchup would have been. For a Spurs’ team that still considers itself very much a title contender, that doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

“It’s a championship team, a championship program,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s a great way to see a lot of players play against such a good basketball team. You play a team like that, you get some questions answered.”

Spurs’ players freely admit today’s game won’t serve as a measuring stick in the manner a regular-season game against the defending league champions might.

By the time the benches clear in the second half, the festivities are likely to devolve into the Wesley Witherspoon or Garrett Temple show.

But at the outset, assuming both teams play their regulars, the game should provide a much better gauge than, say, a rematch with Montepaschi Siena.

“It’s better to play the best team than the worst,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “At least you get to play a few minutes against Wade, LeBron and guys like that, that you’ve really got to guard.”

As the preseason hits the home stretch, Popovich says he plans to ramp up the starters’ minutes leading up to the Oct. 31 regular-season opener at New Orleans.

That should be welcome news to any fan paying full price to attend this afternoon’s exhibition.

“It’s only a preseason game and you’re just getting ready,” center Boris Diaw said. “But they are the defending champions, so we’re going to be able to measure ourselves a little bit.”

If nothing else, the opening quarters of today’s game should provide a stress test for the Spurs’ defense-in-progress.

The Heat boast a trio of All-Stars — led by James, a three-time league MVP — who combined to average better than 67 points per game last season. But they’ve added to the mix a pair of dangerous long-range gunners in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

The 36-year-old Allen, who won a championship ring of his own with Boston in 2008, is only the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history with 2,718 made.

“Having players like LeBron and Wade plus Bosh, you need to put people in the paint and make everything crowded,” Ginobili said. “The addition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis adds two wonderful shooters. It makes them tougher.”

Improving the Spurs from the middling defensive unit they were a season ago — and have been since the 2007 championship season — was the item atop Popovich’s agenda entering training camp.

Through four preseason games, the Spurs are allowing opponents to shoot 33.8 percent and are giving up 95 points per game.

In their only loss of the preseason, the Spurs at least held Denver — the only team to average more points than them in the regular season last year — to less than triple digits.

It’s so far, so good. But then again, the Spurs haven’t faced the defending champs yet.

The Spurs believe they will know more about themselves after the smoke clears today. How much more remains to be seen.

“It’s not going to be a measuring stick to see who wins, because the preseason is not about winning,” Ginobili said. “It’s about getting better, and playing against the best players makes you better.”

Even in the preseason.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

Duncan looks up to speed in loss

By Jeff McDonald

Denver coach George Karl retreated to the visitor’s locker room at the ATT Center on Friday, not long after his Nuggets had finished off a 97-91 preseason victory over the Spurs.

After addressing his team, pow-wowing with his friend, former Nuggets and Spurs coach Doug Moe, and consulting a box score, Karl made a mental note to later double-check his team’s regular-season schedule.

He doesn’t want to face this Tim Duncan anytime soon.

“I don’t know when we play them in-season,” Karl said, after Duncan went for 21 points and eight rebounds in a little more than 25 minutes. “I’m hoping it’s the end of the season. Maybe the wear and tear will have caught up with him.”

Karl will be dismayed to learn he’ll be right back in the ATT Center in less than a month, facing a Duncan as fresh as can be in the regular season.

In handing the Spurs their first loss of the preseason, the Nuggets showed flashes of why many observers consider them a team to watch in the Western Conference.

Devoid of an alpha dog star but deploying one of the deepest rosters in the league, the Nuggets used 24 points from Corey Brewer — 18 in the first half — and 19 from Danilo Gallinari to outrun the Spurs to the finish line.

Denver turned 22 Spurs turnovers into 28 points, and scored 31 points in transition. During an 18-5 spurt to start the second half that pried the game open, the Nuggets notched eight points on dunks — three from JaVale McGee and one from Andre Iguodala.

“We wanted to work on getting back (on defense) because we knew this was a fast-paced team,” said Spurs forward Stephen Jackson, who added 13 points. “We didn’t do as well as we wanted to, but we got something out of the game as far as understanding how far we have to go.”

At the center of it all, new contract in hand, was Duncan.

A veteran of 15 NBA preseasons, Duncan remains in the early stages of gearing up for games that count. At 36 years old, he has learned how to pace himself through October and how to conserve energy for the regular season.

That all went out the window early Friday.

Duncan hit his first five shots, including a basket-and-a-foul against Denver’s Kenneth Faried. Six minutes in, Duncan had 11 points, and the Spurs had a 15-2 lead. He would finish 8 of 11 from the field before taking a seat for the fourth quarter.

“That’s what Timmy does,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “We’re going to need that from him this year.”

At this stage of his career, Duncan isn’t a lock for these kind of games every night. If nothing else, coach Gregg Popovich’s meticulous handling of Duncan’s minutes often serves to depress his nightly box score.

What Karl noticed Friday was the way Duncan scored: His first three field goals were jump shots.

“It looks like his jumper’s got to the point where it’s a little scary right now,” Karl said. “You’re going to have to cover him out there. Making that jumper gives him that cleverness, that quickness that he now can get by you a little bit.”

This is why Karl would prefer to face Duncan in February, when the season has worn him down, and his legs are weary and his jump shot is flat.

Instead, the Nuggets return to the ATT Center on Nov. 17.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN