Posted on February 1, 2010 at 8:30 AM
Sunday, Oct 20 at 5:51 PM
Remember when the Spurs pulled out victories in the fourth quarter with tough defense and crisp offensive execution?
Extraordinarily efficient and disciplined during their run of four NBA championships in nine seasons, the Spurs were a model of consistency.
The Spurs may not have been flashy, but their commitment to fundamental basketball made them tough to beat and earned the respect of teams throughout the league.
Given the team’s struggles this season, those days are quickly becoming a distant memory for the Spurs.
The Denver Nuggets beat the Spurs 103-89 at the AT&T Center on Sunday, adding to the frustration of a team that finds itself mired in mediocrity.
The game was San Antonio’s last at home before its annual “rodeo road trip.” The Spurs finished their six-game homestand 2-4 after starting it with three consecutive losses.
Denver won despite playing without all-star forward Carmelo Anthony, sidelined with an ankle injury. Forward Kenyon Martin and point guard Chauncey Billups more than took up the slack with 27 and 25 points, respectively. Billups also had 11 assists.
The Nuggets (32-15) have the second-best record in the Western Conference, and are playing a lot like the Spurs did when they were among the league’s elite teams.
San Antonio (27-19) played without point guard Tony Parker, who also is nursing an ankle injury.
George Hill led the Spurs with 17 points and Tim Duncan added 16. Manu Ginobili chipped in 14 points and had nine assists.
Starting Wednesday in Sacramento, the Spurs will play eight road games in 19 days. San Antonio doesn’t return to the AT&T Center until Feb. 24, when it hosts Oklahoma City.
The Spurs will play 16 of their remaining 28 regular-season games on the road after the rodeo road trip. That doesn’t bode well for a team that has yet to hit its stride.
The loss to the Nuggets continued a disturbing trend this season for the Spurs, who are 11-19 against winning teams.
Three years after capturing their last title, the Spurs could be hard pressed to win 50 games this season. That’s a major letdown for a team that was expected to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference title after acquiring forward Richard Jefferson last summer.
But Jefferson has looked tentative throughout most of the season, struggling to find his rhythm offensively while he adjusts to a new system.
Although the Spurs have shown promise in spurts this season, their inconsistency has reared its ugly head at critical times.
While it’s still possible the Spurs could find their groove in the last 2½ months of the regular season, they face a formidable challenge in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Many fans still express confidence the Spurs will come together during the rodeo trip, as it generally has done in the past. It’s almost like they expect some magical force to intervene and cure the Spurs’ woes.
But I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high. Remember, this is a team that has lost four of its last six games at home. Momentum and confidence are critical in sports, and the Spurs don’t have much of either with 36 regular-season games left.
Still, the Spurs aren’t that far from being a pretty good team. They could make some noise in the playoffs if they put it together. In the end, chemistry matters as much as talent. The Spurs’ championship teams demonstrated that.
If ever the Spurs have needed to put together some quality victories, this is the time. They must get back to the basics and keep working to improve with each game.
That may sound cheesy, but that’s what made the Spurs champions in the past.