Gregg Popovich put his $20 million starting center on the inactive list for the Spurs’ Wednesday night game against the Utah Jazz, and the oddsmakers in Las Vegas just yawned. Even after the Spurs officially announced, in mid-afternoon, that LaMarcus Aldridge would be a healthy scratch from the game, the Spurs remained a 13 ½-point favorite–the only double-digit favorite on a slate of 10 NBA games that included 21-14 Atlanta playing 3-33 Philadelphia.
The apathetic response was natural enough because the Jazz entered the game with four of their top six players out with injuries, including their 7-foot-1 starting center, Rudy Gobert, and starting power forward Derrick Favors.
There was never a chance the Jazz would become the first visiting team to beat the Spurs at the AT&T Center this season and it was evident early in the game that only the final margin would be in question, even with Aldridge sitting and Tony Parker, the four-time All-NBA point guard, nursing a sore right hip.
The final margin was 25 points, 123-98, the fourth straight Spurs win by at least 18 points. They remained perfect at the AT&T Center this season, 21-0. You can get excited about the fact they have won 30 straight regular season games there. The Spurs know they lost twice on their home court in last season’s first-round playoff ouster by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Aldridge wasn’t injured but when you are a Spurs starter of a certain age you are going to be asked to skip a game here and there, the better to be fresh for playoffs–this has been a given since the club made Tim Duncan the No. 1 overall selection of the 1997 draft.
So Aldridge sat out a game for which he was full healthy, maybe for the first time since he began playing organized basketball.
It didn’t matter because the Jazz is a young team that has a chance to make the Western Conference playoff field this season, but not without Gobert, Favors, sixth man Alec Burks and guard Dante Exum, who may not be back from a knee injury until April.
“It wasn’t a fair fight,” Popovich said, and then he took a tiny jab at his players because this is what coaches do.
“I actually think (the Jazz) executed their offense better than that we executed ours,” the Spurs coach said. “They are missing so many guys and it is a real tribute to the coaching staff and to those players that they come out every night like this and play their butts off.”
The Spurs didn’t take exactly take the night off. David West, a consummate professional, started in Aldridge’s place and turned in season highs in points (14) and rebounds (13). Thirty-nine-year-old Duncan had a season-high 18 points, one of eight Spurs who scored in double figures as the team matched its season high point output.
The deep Spurs roster was on full display. All 13 players who suited up played at least five minutes. Everyone scored, save for Patty Mills, who started as point guard in Parker’s spot. In 23 minutes he missed all four shots he attempted but on this night nobody seemed to care, especially when the team’s third point guard, Ray McCallum, produced a season-high 10 points.
This may not be the deepest team in franchise history but it is a contender.
“We’ve been very lucky and the front office has done a great job of bringing in talent and guys that want to win a championship,” said veteran guard Manu Ginobili. “We have always had deep teams. Some years, we’ve had a little better than others. We’re doing very good and have so many players who can contribute. We have the luxury of sitting Tony and LaMarcus and still win a good game. Not many teams can do that.”
If there is another NBA team as deep as the Spurs it is the defending champion Golden State Warriors and even after the Spurs’ sixth straight win, which put them at 31-6, the best 37-game start in franchise history, they remain three games behind the Warriors in the Western Conference standings.
You might think the Warriors, currently 33-2, help the Spurs maintain game-to-game motivation but this is a team that always has focused only on how it plays.
“I don’t think it helps or it hurts,” Ginobili said of the Warriors’ jackrabbit start to the season. “It’s just what it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. They are playing great basketball. They are fun to watch. And good for them. We are trying to do our best to get better and try to be the best team we can be in April.
“But if Golden State finishes 80-2, it is what it is.”
Of course, an 80-2 Warriors record would require a 4-0 sweep of the Spurs and Ginobili doesn’t expect that Popovich will be resting any players on the four occasions that the West’s top two teams meet this season, beginning with a Jan. 25 game in Oakland that will be the most anticipated regular season game in the entire league.
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.