Spurs face big challenge to hang on without Ginobili

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So far this season, the San Antonio Spurs are 12.4 points per 48 minutes better with Manu Ginobili on the court than off it.

He is going to be off it now for the next five or six weeks after fracturing a bone in his left hand — his shooting hand.

Ginobili is the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game and was the team’s most efficient scorer shooting 59.2 percent overall and 51.9 percent from three. He was the guy creating a lot of the offense for his teammates. His PER of 31.5 was MVP level (second best in the league this young season behind only LeBron James).

The only good news for San Antonio is that it is early in the season — he should be back at full strength in the playoffs. Remember he tried to play through a fractured elbow last season in the playoffs and the Spurs were swept by Memphis. He had a broken nose in the playoffs the year before that, he missed the playoffs in 2009 due to stress fracture in his ankle, and in 2008 he tried to play through an ankle injury but wasn’t near himself. In each of those years the Spurs were eliminated earlier than expected.

The hard part may be making the playoffs at all. As Zach Lowe notes at Sports Illustrated, the Spurs are just entering a tough part of their schedule and in a stacked Western Conference they need to be close to .500 through this stretch.

He could miss as many as six weeks, and if that’s the case, Ginobili’s absence could stretch into San Antonio’s nine-game rodeo road trip in February. As is, the Spurs have 17 games over the next 27 days, a stretch that includes six back-to-backs; road games at Memphis, Oklahoma City, Miami, Orlando, Houston and Dallas; and a brutal six-games-in-eight days set that starts Wednesday against Golden State. The Spurs have played just one back-to-back so far, and they lost the second game to Houston so badly that coach Gregg Popovich threw in the towel early and sat Tim Duncan the entire second half.

San Antonio is not going to be able to make up for all the production lost with Ginobili out, the challenge is making up enough, points out Timothy Varner at the fantastic Spurs blog 48minutesofhell.com.

In the past, the Spurs have always dealt with an injury to one of their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili by getting a burst of great production from one or both of the others. I’m not sure they can do that this season. There is great risk in demanding too much of Duncan or Parker in the early weeks of this season’s condensed schedule. Duncan, in particular, would not withstand heavy minutes on short rest. This is not to say Duncan is an automatic injury—it’s more of a comment about his ability to play well on limited rest and what it would mean for his body in advance of the postseason.

The Spurs need DeJaun Blair and other role players to step up, they need to find a way to tread water and stay in the playoff hunt without Ginobili around. With him healthy in the playoffs they are a threat, but they have to get there first.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.