What's the latest on the Spurs injury front? Who's in, who's out and what does the rotation look like right now?
If Tony Parker plays - and he's got a great chance to do so - it'll be the first time the Spurs have been at full strength since Jan. 4. Furthermore, if the Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter lineup starts, it'll be the first time those five guys have played together since New Year's Eve. That starting lineup that cruised through the 2012-13 regular season and Western Conference playoffs has only played 137 total minutes together this year, which is just crazy when you think about it.
But just in general, things have really begun to return to normal, which is refreshing. It's been both weird and incredible watching Gregg Popovich pull the rotation strings during this two-month-long injury rash. But that familiar starting lineup has filtered back in and the explosive Mills-Ginobili-Belinelli-Diaw-Ayres bench is fully intact again. No more three-point-guard lineups or six-footers defending the likes of Kevin Durant and James Harden ... or in this case, Monta Ellis. I expect we're about to see the Spurs finally show their true colors.
Given the Mavs problems with interior D, are they better off conceding Tim Duncan's points or packing the paint and opening up the Spurs shooters?
I think you always have to run the Spurs off the three-point line. Yes, Duncan can hurt you, but not in the same way he used to. The Mavs really don't have a great option in terms of defending him one-on-one in the post, but they might just have to live with that because the alternative is even less favorable. When teams let San Antonio get going from deep, they risk letting the floodgates bust wide open.
When the Spurs have struggled in recent years, it's been against teams that clog the passing lanes and shut down the many outlets they have throughout each offensive set. All San Antonio's misdirection stuff is designed to create assists and open up those passing lanes, so if you stick to shooters you make the Spurs a little more one-dimensional.
The playoff picture out West is pretty unsettled, with Mavs-Spurs being one of a number of possible first-round scenarios. Which of the bottom 4 teams out West would scare SA the most?
If we're talking about the current fifth through eighth seeds, it's got to be Houston. The Rockets are a miserable matchup for the Spurs. But if we're talking those bottom four teams, including those right on the outside of the playoff bubble (Wolves, Grizzlies, Suns, Mavericks), it'd probably have to be Memphis. Those guys are just a handful to deal with for any team in a playoff series with the suffocating style of play they bring to the table. But Dallas has to be in the conversation.
That Dirk, Monta pick-and-roll has become lethal, and Rick Carlisle is a top three coach in this league that's already proven he can win a ring. The other thing with the Mavs, they're getting better by the month. They boasted the highest net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) of any team in the NBA during the month of February, and it's not just because the offense has been rolling. The defense has shown a few more glimpses of competency along the way as well.
Still, I'm not sure how high that defense's ceiling is, and that alone hurts them quite a bit when trying to forecast playoff success. Maybe if Dallas can get into that sixth seed at the end of the regular season they'll be able to make some noise, but against a Spurs or Thunder team (if those two hang on to the top two spots) I just don't see it ending well.
There was a story the other day about Tony Parker wanting to retire after the 2016 Olympics, though he quickly shot that down. If you had to guess, when do you think each of the Big Three will hang it up?
Yeah that story wasn't reported very well. Tony said he wants to retire from International competition following the 2016 Olympics, not from basketball in general. In fact, he said he'd like to play into his later 30s, so don't expect him to hang ‘em up anytime soon.
Duncan and Ginobili on the other hand, that's a different story. The end is inevitably near for both of them, unfortunately. I know your readership is likely heartbroken. Duncan has already said he's not playing beyond his current contract, which ends in a player option for next season, putting him at age 39 if it holds true. I also expect Manu to go out with Tim after next season when his contract expires at age 37. That's gonna be a hell of a day in San Antonio.
But, you never really know. They both look great physically and are both very much invested and just as excited to play every night as they always have been. These guys are basketball lifers, so it's difficult to imagine them ever retiring. It's got to happen at some point though, and I believe that moment is no more than a year or two away. And that opens a whole new can of worms in regard to Parker, whose contract expires after next season as well.