Manu Ginobili and the dark cloud of the Spurs on the Western Conference horizon


If the Spurs are going to win the title this season it will be on the back of Manu Ginobili. That has become abundantly clear over the past six weeks or so. The Spurs are facing what can genuinely be considered their 14th consecutive season of championship contention, which is, in every way possible, completely and totally amazingly bonkers. That’s consistency of a kind that we simply almost never see in the NBA. Not even the Lakers have truly been contenders for that length of time, and they have five titles to their credit. But in the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic shift from the gritty, patient, bore-a-hole-in-y0ur-head-and-suck-out-your-brains-with-a-vacuum-cleaner Spurs to an offensive juggernaut with defensive issues.

In March of last year, the Spurs defensive efficiency skyrocketed to 108.5 up from 101.1 for their season average. It was a trend few were examining until the playoffs came and all of a sudden the Spurs couldn’t stop the Memphis Grizzlies, eventually losing to them in the first round in one of the biggest upsets ever. For most of this season, the trend had been corrected. Unfortunately, over the past month, we see the same trend picking up as what bit them in March of last season.

So that’s not good (I ignored the four game stretch in December for sample size purposes and the two games in April. But let it be known those six games they were good defensively overall.) They were really locking down in February but March rolled around and things changed. Interestingly, both Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, the two deadline and buy-out additions for the Spurs haven’t been the problem, the Spurs’ defensive efficiency is better than average with them on the court. It’s everyone around them that has slid backwards.

Does this mean that the Spurs are terrible at defense? Not at all. In the past ten games, the Spurs have the 9th best defensive efficiency in the 4th quarter. They’re quite capable of good defense and all signs point to their having a superior defensive front than last year. It’s just that they are clearly not a tremendous defensive team. They’re average-to-slightly-above-average, at least in the regular season. I had anticipated them turning it on in the playoffs last year, only to find defense to be the biggest reason they lost in the first round. Can they turn it on this year? Probably to a degree, but they won’t be winning with defense.

They’ll be winning with Ginobili.

Ginobili missed a large portion of the year with various injuries. To say that the Spurs have crept to this record because of Ginobili would be false. It’s been Tony Parker, and the bench’s brilliance, and Popovich’s coaching, and overall execution. But in the playoffs, when the margin between teams is narrowed to a handful of possessions, it will be Ginobili that will make the difference.

Like on plays like this.

As Spurs blog Pounding the Rock has described Ginobili:

The 34-year-old shooting guard (34 being considered as chronologically challenged in the NBA) carefully brings the basketball past half court methodically, seemingly taunting the defense. Ten eyes are scanning his every move. His passing ability alone warrants the defense’s undivided attention. Couple that with his quirky offensive game — a game is crafted with artifice, predicated on unique angles, balanced upon the threat of scoring from every part of the floor, his ambidextrous dribbling and the ability to draw fouls continuously — Manu Ginobili is still incredibly hard to stop despite having logged 652 games at the professional level (not counting his International experience).

Manu has always been as attuned as any player can be to the ebb and flow of a game; ready and able to deliver what his team needed from him at any point. For me, the worst part about watching the ’08 and ’09 playoffs, was having the involuntary thought, “Ok, Manu needs to step up now,” only to realize that he was in street clothes. If we can all agree that his sensitivity to where and how he needs to play is as advanced as it’s always seemed to be, then it’s a really short trip to believing that we’re seeing a metamorphosis in his game that will take him places we can only imagine. And that will take the team where it hasn’t been in five long years — into the Golden Hour, where the end of the day brings beauty, even as night closes in.

via Manu Ginobili’s Game Is Changing Right Before Our Eyes – Pounding The Rock.

Ginobili’s continued excellence lies in his ability to make key plays. Not clutch plays. But well-timed conversions of low-percentage opportunities. Slipping between defenders and hitting the and-one when the lead has swelled to seven. Nabbing the steal when the offensive momentum is with the other team. Canning the open three when the defense loses him for just a second. These are the Ginobili plays that will make the most difference.

The Spurs’ defense is not where it needs to be. But it’s good enough. And when the playoffs come around, if Ginobili is playing at this level, there will be no first-round upset. There will be the Spurs, standing in the Thunder’s way, with every matchup advantage you can imagine.

The Spurs are the dark cloud on the horizon of the Western Conference. Ignore them at your peril.

Chris Paul volunteers to pay Gerald Green’s fine for shove

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Gorgui Dieng pushed down Chris Paul. So, Gerald Green pushed Dieng into the stands.

And now Paul is stepping up for his Rockets teammate.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Green is such a ride-or-die guy. He didn’t have a deep history against the Clippers or with Chris Paul. Yet, just a few weeks into his Houston tenure, Green was with Trevor Ariza (a longtime Paul friend) at the forefront of the Rockets’ charge into the Clippers’ locker room.

Stars like Paul respect that, and this gesture will only strengthen the ties between him and Green.

Green hasn’t been fined yet, though I expect there will be a tab for Paul to pick up.

Report: Tyronn Lue plans to return to Cavaliers next week

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence.

For how long?

David Aldridge of

Cleveland’s upcoming schedule:

  • Tonight: vs. Bucks
  • Wednesday: vs. Raptors
  • Friday: vs. Suns
  • Sunday: at Nets
  • March 27: at Heat
  • March 28: at Hornets
  • March 30: vs. Pelicans

I’d be a little surprised if Lue returns during a road trip, though it’s just in the East. It wouldn’t be impossible. Still, March 30 against New Orleans appears to be the most likely return date based on Aldridge’s report.

Given how serious Lue’s statement sounded, that’s a relief. Hopefully, he’s healthy that quickly.

We’re also learning more about his condition.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The first step is Lue feeling better during this rest. But, even once that happens, there will still be the challenge of him managing these issues while dealing with the stress of coaching. That’s a different animal.

Legend: LeBron James gained seven pounds during game

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Remember when LeBron James was getting back injections and missing weeks?

Now, at age 33 and in his 15th season, LeBron might play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And that’s while playing 37 minutes per game at a superstar level.

How did LeBron reverse what appeared to be declining athleticism and durability? Brian Windhorst of ESPN has a fantastically detailed article, focusing on LeBron’s personal biomechanist, Donnie Raimon, a former Navy SEAL.


James is known to personally spend seven figures a year caring for his body, and Raimon is part of that tab. So are personal chefs and masseuses. He also gets private treatments with liquid nitrogen to help reduce inflammation. James’ home facilities rival those of professional teams. In his home in Akron, James has a fully outfitted workout gym, hot and cold tubs and a hyperbaric chamber.

LeBron views that as investment. He’s earning $33,285,709 from the Cavaliers this season, and even at his age, he can command any contract from any team next summer. The path to LeBron maximizing his earnings is playing elite basketball as long as possible. The expenses incurred are a drop in the bucket.

In this excellent article – worth reading in full – Windhorst goes on an unbelievable tangent.


And the topper: the time James gained seven pounds during an Eastern Conference finals game.

Some Miami Heat teammates saw the scale and attest to it in amazement. James himself just shrugs and calls it “weird as hell.” The truly wild part is that it was from 271 pounds to 278 pounds, though James is much lighter these days.

Was LeBron wearing different clothes for each weigh-in? Did the scale malfunction during one?

It’s hard enough to come up with plausible explanations for the reading to increase by seven pounds. It’s far more difficult to believe LeBron actually gained seven pounds during a game.

But this story still contributes to the idea of LeBron’s body as otherworldly.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue taking leave of absence

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue left Cleveland’s win over the Bulls yesterday due to illness. He has also missed time in other games, shootarounds and practice due to the illness.

Apparently, he reached a breaking point.

Cavaliers release:

From Tyronn Lue:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards.

I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

From Koby Altman:

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues.”

Hopefully, Lue gets through these issues and returns to the bench. My thoughts are with him.

This has been a trying season for Lue and the Cavs. Rumors have swirled about his job security, as Cleveland (40-29) has stumbled to third in the Eastern Conference. He was part of a shouting match with LeBron James on the bench (though an assistant coach might be have been LeBron’s target). Lue has had public disputes with Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith. And many took Kyrie Irving‘s praise of Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a shot at Lue.

All that stress does Lue’s health no favors.

Him stepping away is evidently for the best. A competitor like him wouldn’t have done so unless that was absolutely clear.

But this also leaves the Cavaliers in a tough place. They’re already trying to change so much on the fly after a busy trade-deadline day upended the roster. Adjusting to a new coach – associate head coach Larry Drew – only adds to the chaos.

Drew has previous head-coaching experience, with the Bucks and Hawks. So, that should help.

But Cleveland needs major work defensively and developing cohesion before the playoffs. The goal is beating the Warriors, but even winning the East looks dicey, especially given the Raptors’ emergence.

Lue’s health comes first, and hopefully time off helps him. Unfortunately, this situation also exacerbates other issues in Cleveland.