Don’t look now, but the Spurs are good

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With all the talk about the Celtics, the Lakers, the Hornets, and the Heat going on right now, it’s pretty easy not to notice that the 8-1 San Antonio Spurs have the league’s second-best record. The Spurs haven’t had a very tough schedule, of course, and didn’t have a signature win on their record until last weekend’s thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Still, the story of the Spurs’ early success isn’t just about the fact that they’ve been winning games — it’s how they’ve been winning them that’s really interesting. The Spurs have been winning by scoring buckets at a breakneck pace, and they’ve pushed the ball more while relying on the aging Tim Duncan less and less.

Traditionally, San Antonio basketball has been built around three pillars — defense, methodical play, and Tim Duncan. But this season, the Spurs have been running and gunning. The Spurs aren’t a bad defensive team — they’re currently 8th in the league in defensive efficiency, mostly thanks to Duncan — but defense hasn’t been their main strength so far. Instead, it’s been the offense that’s carried the team. The Spurs are 5th in the league in offensive efficiency and 3rd in points per game, with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Richard Jefferson all off to blistering starts.

Even though none of those three players are getting any younger, the Spurs are still longer, more athletic, and more skilled on the perimeter than most teams are, and they’ve taken advantage of that by pushing the ball more than they ever have before. In 2007-08, the Spurs were 28th in pace factor. In 08-09, they were 27th. Last season, they were 20th. This year, the Spurs are currently playing at the sixth-fastest pace in the league — they play a full 2.6 possessions “faster” per game than the Suns (who rank 14th in pace factor) do, to give you some context.

Even though Duncan is still vital to the Spurs’ success, especially on defense, and the Spurs’ youth movement hasn’t really been blossoming (George Hill, Tiago Splitter, and DeJuan Blair are all off to slow starts), the Spurs’ early success has to be heartening for Spurs fans wondering what life will be like as Duncan gets closer and closer to the twilight years of his career. If the Spurs can keep playing the way they have, they’ll be a dangerous playoff team. If taking the load off Duncan in the regular season allows him to play like the Tim Duncan we’ve all come to know come playoff time, watch out.

Dwyane Wade says Bulls’ showers had no hot water in Boston

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The Bulls suffered a rough loss in Boston last night.

It didn’t get better afterward.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge – who played for Boston in the 80s – pleaded ignorance to any nefarious plumbing:

I think the idea that teams plot to shut off the visitor’s hot water is often overstated. Arenas have complex infrastructure, and things can go wrong on their own. Sometimes, the home team loses hot water, but that never gets remembered.

But reasonable excuses don’t make a cold shower in the moment any more tolerable.

Robin Lopez pushes short floater over backboard (video)

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Robin Lopez had reason to be upset from the Bulls’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

This miss was all on him.

Dwyane Wade plays the laziest defense you’ll ever see (video)

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Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) was the Bulls’ best player in their Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

But the 35-year-old guard clearly didn’t go all out on every possession.

Players can justify not closing out by claiming they were prioritizing rebounding position. Wade clearly has no such excuse.

Video Breakdown: Clippers use JJ Redick in split cut to fool Jazz at 3-point line

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The Los Angeles Clippers dropped Game 5 to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, and find themselves down 3-2 as they head back to Salt Lake City for Game 6. The Clippers have had to deal with Utah’s formidable defense, so much so that they’ve built in counters to Jazz defenders overplaying shooters like JJ Redick.

One example of this countering method could be found in Game 3, when the Clippers ran a split cut for Redick. Instead of fighting endlessly around screens for a 3-point shot as you might expect, LA took the easy route and simply cut Redick to the basket for an easy layup as a means to take advantage of an overeager defender.

We’ve talked about the Split Cut here on NBA Playbook before. The Los Angeles Lakers used it earlier in the season to beat the Golden State Warriors, the team that uses the split cut perhaps the most out of any team in the NBA.

Other teams, including the Portland Trail Blazers, have adapted the Warriors’ use of the split cut as a counter for their own offense this season, which is a testament to just how useful it is.

If you need a reminder, a split cut all about a screener coming up to screen, then cutting toward the basket before his screen action fully takes place. It’s about timing, and catching defenders off guard when they go to set up their recover positions for screens.

For a full breakdown on the split cut and how the Clippers used it, watch the video above.