Spurs’ defense a major work in progress

By Jeff McDonald

If it’s January, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich must be complaining about his defense.

Earlier this week, Popovich raised eyebrows after a 106-103 loss in Milwaukee by labeling his current Spurs crop “the worst defensive team we’ve ever had.”

It is a theme he continued to hammer when the Spurs returned home to face Houston on Wednesday, noting the Spurs’ defensive ranks — 26th in field-goal percentage defense, 23rd in opponents’ points per game.

“That just won’t get anything done,” Popovich said. “That will portend a very mediocre basketball season for the San Antonio Spurs.”

Whether the Spurs finally heeded Popovich’s message — or perhaps the second night of a back-to-back got to their opponents — Wednesday’s 101-95 overtime win over the Rockets seemed to represent a modest step forward on the defensive front.

After allowing Houston to shoot 65 percent (13 of 20) in the first quarter — “It looked like the same defense from Milwaukee,” Popovich said — the Spurs held the Rockets to 28-of-76 shooting the rest of the way, including 2 for 10 in OT.

Houston finished the game at 42.7 percent, breaking a string of three straight opponents to top 50 percent against the Spurs. The Rockets made just 3 of 21 3-pointers.

Though obviously pleased with the performance, Popovich and team captain Tim Duncan both said they’d like to see more of the same before declaring the Spurs’ defensive woes cured.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we believe the Spurs’ defense should be.”

All-Star crickets: No Spurs ranked among the top six of their respective positions in the first release of All-Star balloting returns Thursday, a sign that perhaps the league is prepared to stage its first midseason classic in 16 years without a San Antonio representative.

Tim Duncan was the Spurs’ leading vote-getter, placing seventh among Western Conference forwards. Out with a broken left hand, Manu Ginobili is running eighth among West guards, while Tony Parker is not in the top 10.

The last time the NBA played an All-Star Game without a member of the Spurs was 1997, a year in which David Robinson was injured and Duncan was a senior at Wake Forest.

Duncan has played in 13 consecutive All-Star games, starting the past 12.

Ready to help: Spurs rookie point guard Cory Joseph spent four games in the Development League before T.J. Ford went down with a torn hamstring. Recalled before Wednesday’s game, Joseph believes his short time in Austin has him better prepared to contribute to the NBA club.

“(The Toros) run the same stuff, and getting that game experience helped me a lot, really helped my confidence,” Joseph said.

The 20-year-old Joseph averaged 11.3 points in his stint with the Toros, shooting less than 28 percent (10 for 36). Gary Neal will serve as Parker’s primary backup for as long as Ford is out, with Joseph on hand for use in emergency situations.

Leave a Reply