Spurs intend to hurdle roadblock

MIAMI — Maybe it’s just the jet lag. Maybe it’s a touch of homesickness.

Maybe the mattresses at their luxury hotels have suddenly become too lumpy. Maybe the seats on their charter plane have become too cramped.

Or maybe, as Tim Duncan suggests, there really is no good explanation for the Spurs’ newfound fear of travel.

The fact of the matter is this: The Spurs are 9-0 at the ATT Center this season, 0-4 when they leave Bexar County.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to why we’re winning one place and not the other,” Duncan said. “We just have to play better on the road.”

Having already perfected the art of winning at home, the Spurs figure tonight in Miami is as good a time as any to take their winning act on the road.

The Spurs have not won a road game of any sort — postseason, regular season or preseason — since posting a 97-90 victory at Atlanta last April 5.

This season, they’ve been routed in Houston, Minnesota and Oklahoma City and dropped a three-point game in Milwaukee.

“In a situation like this, home games become even more important, and road games are even tougher to get,” forward Richard Jefferson said. “You have to play better on the road than you do at home.”

On the surface, the back-to-back that begins tonight in Miami and continues Wednesday at Orlando is not the most desirable place to stage a road revival.

The All-Star laden Heat, defending Eastern Conference champions, beat the Spurs by 30 at AmericanAirlines Arena last season (a week after — go figure — losing by 30 in San Antonio).

Meanwhile, the Magic have become a perennial Spurs roadblock, winning the past three meetings in Orlando by a combined 52 points.

Considering NBA schedule-makers will not allow the Spurs to play only in San Antonio, they’d better figure out how to win an away game if they plan on finishing the season better than .500.

For starters, center DeJuan Blair said, “we’ve got to bring more intensity on the road.”

The Spurs could get a bit of a break tonight, with Miami All-Star guard Dwyane Wade expected to miss the game with an ankle injury. Still, LeBron James — Wade’s All-Star backcourt mate — picked up the slack to the tune of 32.5 points, 11 assists and 7.5 rebounds in a pair of games flying solo the week before last.

Wade’s status might not matter if the Spurs can’t find a way to suspend their road-home Jekyll-and-Hyde routine. The sample size is small, but so far the Spurs have been a different team outside San Antonio city limits.

They are averaging 103.4 points at home, 95 on the road. They are allowing 106.3 points on the road and 90.3 at home.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is succinct in diagnosing the difference.

“We suck on the road,” he said. “We’re really good at home.”

This is a relatively novel phenomenon for the Spurs, who have traditionally been one of the NBA’s saltiest away teams. Last season, the Spurs won their first eight road games en route to a 25-16 road record.

The best explanation anyone can offer for the Spurs’ recently discovered ability to impersonate a treadmarked armadillo: an increased reliance on younger players.

Popovich starts a 22-year-old at center (Blair) and a 20-year-old rookie at guard (Kawhi Leonard). His bench includes third-year swingman Danny Green, a pair of second-year players in center Tiago Splitter and guard Gary Neal and another 20-year-old rookie in point guard Cory Joseph.

Winning on the road, Popovich said, is a learned skill younger players take time to master.

“There are always a couple moments in a road game where it can be a five- or six-point game, and all of a sudden it’s eight or 10,” Popovich said. “You sort of lose your mojo.”

Duncan figures it is past time for the Spurs to find it in someone else’s gym.

“We’ve protected our home court,” Duncan said. “Now it’s time to get one on the road.”


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