1. Who plays for San Antonio?
Greg Popovich demonstrates how important he feels the NBA regular season is to his wonderfully talented team on a regular basis. He’s been known to essentially throw games in the quest to keep his players healthy and rested for the playoffs. In this back-to-back-to-back stretch they are playing through now (with the Sixers as the final team), Popovich has chosen to give his starters rest separately. Tim Duncan played each of the last two nights, and will likely get tonight off. Manu Ginobili sat out of last night’s game, so he should play tonight. And Tony Parker sat out of the first game to rest his injured hamstring. Yet, despite all of this, the Spurs won both games. Sleeping on the Spurs just because Duncan will sit out will come back and bite us if it happens.
Also, of note, the Sixers still have another back-to-back-to-back remaining on their schedule, which won’t be friendly.
2. Containing Tony Parker
While Eva Longoria failed in this quest (Zing!), the Sixers did an even more terrible job than Eva in the first Spurs game. Parker scored 37 points, hitting all 13 of his free throws and adding 8 assists, en route to a 10 point Spurs win. Simply put, the Sixers didn’t, and maybe couldn’t, do anything to stop him. It looks like Jrue Holiday will be tasked with defending him one-on-one, but it will be up to the team to help – Holiday can’t do it on his own.
The first game is one of the highlights of what is arguably Parker’s career year, at age 29. While MVP consideration is a little strong, there’s no doubt he’s been the best player for the Spurs this season.
3. Scoring in the paint
It stands to reason that shooting very close to the rim results in higher percentage shots than ones further away. While that’s not always true (shooting from 5-8 feet from the rim is actually a chore for many, mainly because those shots are almost always contested), shots at the rim do go in often. In the third quarter of Friday night’s game against Boston, the Sixers got to the rim early and often. Spencer Hawes often was the facilitator of these scores, as the Sixers ran give-and-goes with him to result in easy scores. It’s something that doesn’t happen often enough – the Sixers get to the foul line less than almost anyone. In the last matchup, the Spurs got to the foul line 15 more times than the Sixers, while Parker lived in the paint. Without Duncan, the Sixers should have an easy time getting to the rim.