Tonight the Spurs wrap up their annual extended road trip against the Suns, the second straight year the Suns have been the last game on the road trip. The Suns appeared to have turned it around, and the Spurs are in a rather large swoon. As usual, we'll preview this game from the outside and look at why the Spurs don't look like the Spurs.
Tonight marks the end of one of my least favorite traditions in sports; the Spurs will play the Suns in Phoenix and then board a plane back to San Antonio, thus ending the 2015 Rodeo Road Trip. In case you are not familiar with the Rodeo Road Trip, it is a nine game road stand the Spurs play every February while their arena plays home to the San Antonio Stock & Rodeo Show. Seemingly every year the Spurs do well on the trip, posting a 74-34 record since the quaint little tradition started in 2003. I long ago stopped hating the Spurs for their success, but every year the media raves about Greg Popovich and how he handles his team and how this road trip is a chance for them to bond and round into postseason form. The inevitable momentum from a 7-2 road trip followed by the cushy four day break the NBA always gives them before they have to play again seems to be the ignition switch for the Spurs inevitable success. Only the Spurs could take a gigantic inconvenience and parlay it into a strength every single year.
Not this year.
The 2015 Rodeo Road Trip has not gone well for San Antonio as they have already secured their first losing record on the trip, going 3-5 in their first eight games. The Spurs have lost all four games on their road trip against teams with a winning record by an average of nine points per game. Victories against Sacramento, Indiana, and Detroit may make the trip look palatable, a team going 3-6 or 4-5 on a long road trip with losses to winning teams is hardly a reason to cry panic, but the numbers for one particular Spurs player may do the trick. Tell me if you can figure out who these numbers belong to:
16.7 PPG, 49.9 FG%, 5.7 APG, 3.6 FTA
11.8 PPG, 40.8 FG%, 4.6 APG, 1.8 FTA
Any guesses? Player A is Tony Parker from the 2013-2014 season. A solid year where he played less than thirty minutes per game and still put up strong numbers, particularly in terms of efficiency with a 50% field goal percentage and a couple trips to the foul line every game. Player B is Tony Parker in the year 2015. Parker's field goal percentage has dropped nearly a full 10%, his trips to the line have been cut in half.
Parker turns 33 years old this May, and is in his 13th NBA season. As a member of the San Antonio Spurs he has played in the playoffs every single year of his career, including five trips to the NBA finals, seven trips to the Western Conference Finals, and eleven trips to the second round of the playoffs. Tony Parker is in his 15th or 16th season of NBA basketball if we count by Tracy McGrady years! Parker has also been battling hamstring problems for nearly two seasons now, with the problem dating back to the 2012-2013 season, in particular the Conference Finals and Finals of that year.
Tim Duncan has not been Tim Duncan for years, even if he is still playing well and putting up a high efficiency rating. Manu Ginobili is not only shooting 41.9% from the field, but also averaging the exact same number of turnovers per game as free throw attempts (2.3). Even Kawhi Leonard has battled injuries and a poor shooting stroke this season after looking like the fourth horsemen of a never-ending Spurspocalypse the last two seasons. The Spurs, for all their woes, are still 35-23 this season, although only good enough for 7th in the Western Conference. A loss in Phoenix tonight would put them 3.5 games ahead of the Suns and Pelicans for the 8th seed and still 3 ahead of OKC for the 7th. The Spurs will have 23 games left after tonight. Only seven of those games are against squads with losing records, and the Spurs finish their season with a stretch possibly even more brutal than Phoenix's final stretch, the Spurs final 14 games of the season are as follows: @Atlanta, @Dallas, OKC, Dallas, Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, Denver, Golden State, @OKC, Houston, @Houston, Phoenix, @New Orleans.
For Suns fans who have bet against the Spurs in the past because of age or injuries or a rough regular season, these arguments may seem like fool's gold. My money is on the Spurs finishing in the playoff bracket as usual, and the Suns would still be competing with New Orleans for their spot in the event of an unlikely collapse. However, there is no doubt looking at the Spurs schedule and where they stand as a team performance wise at this moment that they are vulnerable. Every run comes to an end. There is but the slightest glimmer of hope that the Suns could use this game and this moment to put a nail in the Spurs Dynasty Coffin tonight.
Suns vs Spurs tonight at 7PM! Bring it!
What Vegas Thinks: Flip a Coin (Spurs -1, O/U 207)
A one point spread in the NBA is a toss-up, plain and simple. Some of the closest contests in NBA history have been decided by more than one point and Vegas knows this. What they don't know, is how this game will turn out. It's understandable the team with a significantly better record is favored, but the Spurs played last night in Sacramento in a game that ended well past 10PM AZ time. Obviously home court advantage also plays in the Suns favor, but winning two games in a row after a brutal losing streak doesn't buy the credibility necessary to be favorites in Vegas over a proven winner in San Antonio. Still, a toss up.
An Over/Under of 207 is pretty low for the Suns, but the Spurs have played at a slow pace this season that has given Vegas fits after playing a much faster pace the past two seasons. Spurs games have hit the Under 34 out of 58 games this season, and until that record gets closer to even Vegas is going to continue to bet low on the new grind-it-out Spurs. Vegas Predicts Spurs 104 Suns 103
What the National Media Thinks: Is it Finally Over?
The national media generally agrees the recent Spurs swoon during their usual period of reckoning has been interesting and surprising to say the least. Bleacher Report went with a media classic this week, writing about the Spurs problems and their potential collapse and then hedging their own bet by mentioning how silly it is to predict the Spurs collapse. USA Today seems to be the only entity willing to talk about the possibility of the Spurs missing the playoffs, while other outlets are worried about them being passed for the eight seed by Oklahoma City. If it were December and major cogs were missing serious time due to injury there might be room for playoff concern, especially with two teams (New Orleans and Phoenix) at the Spurs heals with winning records, but it is hard to believe the Spurs will choke away a four game lead in six weeks.
ESPN writer Bill Simmons made an interesting decision to drop Tony Parker in his Trade Value Rankings after initially releasing them a few weeks ago. Parker fell from 20th to 27th on the semi-completely meaningless list of the NBA's best players as they translate to assets, and even then it would appear to be a nonsensical "legacy" move to have him this high. Simmons ranked Eric Bledsoe in the 50s on the same list. Suns fans: Would you trade Parker for Bledsoe straight up? Let's see Parker's 2015 stats again?
Tony Parker 2015
11.8 PPG, 40.8 FG%, 4.6 APG, 1.8 FTA
Eric Bledsoe 2015
18.3 PPG, 47.6 FG%, 6.4 APG, 5.5 FTA
What the ACTUAL SAN ANTONIO SPURS Think:
Normally this section is dedicated to analysis from brother blogs at SB Nation, but the San Antonio Spurs players have been VERY vocal about their struggles lately and what they read into them. After a loss to the underwhelming Utah Jazz on Monday night, all Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili each had depressing quotes to share with the media:
Tim Duncan -- We talked about getting to where we're playing more of 48 minutes than our opponents. I think we've gone the opposite direction.
Manu Ginobili -- We're not at a point where are basically doing anything well.
As for Parker, in an interview with Spurs beat writer Jeff McDonald the point guard admitted this was one of his toughest seasons in the NBA. The shots simply aren't falling and Parker can tell it is having a negative effect on the team.
As for the vibe at SB Nation brother blog, Pounding the Rock? Not great.
The Spurs will most likely be okay in the long term and even short term, but for now there is panic and the Suns need to pounce.