Five quick takes: Why RJ now works better than Howard

Here are five quick thoughts in the wake of the Spurs’ 104-89 victory over Utah Saturday night.

1. Josh Howard was a ballyhooed potential free-agent who thought about coming to San Antonio for a few days before accepting a more lucrative offer from the Jazz. Howard went for 18 points and seven rebounds against the Spurs Saturday night, but at least for this season, Richard Jefferson might be a better fit in the Spurs’ rotation. Jefferson’s institutional knowledge after two seasons makes him more adaptable in the present for Gregg Popovich’s whims. Howard might be more creative, but Jefferson provides what the Spurs need him to do. And he even got into the scoring act with the second unit again Saturday night when he was inserted with them in the second quarter.

2. Maybe it came after exchanging dollars for rubles for a few weeks during the lockout. Or it could have been the frank exit interview he had with Popovich on his way out of San Antonio after last season. But DeJuan Blair appears to be a changed player. His 17 points Saturday against the Jazz finished off his strongest three-game scoring effort of his career. Take away his foul trouble in the opener and he’s been the Spurs’ most consistent player this season. He had a similarly strong start last season before the Whataburgers caught up with him. Now, we’ll see if he can steer clear of those temptations to continue his personal growth this season.

3. Gary Neal is still a week away from getting back into the lineup. It will be interesting to see whose minutes he will impacts when he returns. T.J. Ford has provided a lift with the second unit, but I’m thinking that Neal will see more playing time at point guard  than he did last season. And that could affect Ford’s role on the team and perhaps even determine whether Cory Joseph sticks with the squad over the long haul.

4.  Popovich steered away from much emotion about his 800th victory. But veteran players like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were eloquent in their praise for the only NBA head coach they have played for. It’s hard to imagine the three of them not being together.

5. The Jazz looked like a classic NBA team on the back end of a back-to-back with their early struggles Saturday night. They clanked 13 of their first 17 shots and never appeared to be in a groove offensively before the Spurs took control. We’ll see a lot of tired teams that will look like that over the course of the season. Take the Spurs Thursday night in Houston.

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