Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan

The Spurs have slowed down, even if their offense hasn’t

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One of the more intriguing stories of this young season has been the San Antonio Spurs, who after years of grinding out games and wearing down opponents, had suddenly begun to race through games in breakneck fashion. Tony Parker (and to a lesser extent, George Hill and Manu Ginobili) bumped the pace of the San Antonio offense, and the influx of transition points and opportunities was widely credited with the rejuvenation of the Spurs’ offense. San Antonio sprinted to the top of the league, and their offense was understandably the talk of the town.

The two definitely seemed to line up. The Spurs scored, and they ran. But did they score because they ran?

Even if that were the case originally, San Antonio has found ways to keep their incredible offense up to snuff while gradually reducing the tempo of their games. From Jeff Fogle of HoopData:

Here are the per-game possession numbers out of the gate: 103-97-96-101-110-93-93-101-104

League average is about 95. You can see the Spurs topped that in six of their first nine outings. The median performance was 101. To say this was out of character for a Greg Popovich coached team is an understatement…It was something to behold. But, it was also something that didn’t hold up for very long.

Here are the Spurs possession totals the last nine games: 91-90-101-89-97-90-94-93-85

The 101 came against Golden State, one of the fastest teams in the league (and a rematch landed only on 94). Just one other game was higher than league average. The median was 91, which is well below league average.

This return to normalcy has reduced San Antonio’s pace factor to 95.7 for the season, which ranks 12th in the league. And, fittingly for a team with a coyote for a mascot, that’s 12th win an anvil. The Spurs are falling quickly down the pace rankings because they’re slowing back to past norms.

There’s no use arguing what is established fact: the Spurs’ pace has been slowly regressing toward expectation over the last nine games. What’s notable is that in spite of their more traditional style, the San Antonio offense is has still been incredibly effective. In that same nine-game stretch, the Spurs have averaged 112.7 points per 100 possessions, a few notches higher than their season average of 110.7 points per 100 possessions and almost 10 points higher than the league average.

San Antonio’s stylistic shift was impressive, but the resiliency of their offense is even more so. Regardless of tempo, the Spurs are one of the league’s premier offensive outfits, and while that throws a wrench into the works of stock stories covering SanAn’s boosted pace, it makes for an interesting case study in pacing versatility. They can run the floor or walk the ball up, attack from inside and out, run structured sets or fly off the cuff. So, do tell: how exactly does anyone plan to stop the Spurs?

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.