January 23, 2012

As a training ground for several coaches and executives whove gone on to achieve success in other NBA cities, the San Antonio Spurs are widely viewed around the league as a model franchise. It was the Spurs flawless reputation and track record of accomplishment that partly led to the New Orleans Hornets decision to hire their current general manager and head coach during the 2010 offseason.

Hornets GM Dell Demps and sideline leader Monty Williams are both former members of the Spurs organization who frequently credit San Antonios Gregg Popovich for being a key mentor in their professional development. The Spurs four-time NBA champions, all since 1998-99 are known for relying on a proven philosophy that emphasizes defense, unselfishness and teamwork. Those are the same traits that Demps and Williams have been intent on instilling in New Orleans players since their arrival less than two years ago.

Monday nights matchup in New Orleans is the first of four games between the Southwest Division counterparts during the 2011-12 regular season. The Hornets and Spurs will square off again in 10 days, on Feb. 2 in the Alamo City. After the All-Star break, the clubs will play in New Orleans on March 24, then in San Antonio on April 6.

Despite the Spurs finishing with the best record in the Western Conference last season at 61-21, the 46-36 Hornets recorded two head-to-head victories against them, including a memorable 96-72 rout in January. NOLA also posted a rare victory on San Antonios home floor, part of the teams franchise-record 8-0 start in 2010-11.

Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Jarrett Jack vs. Tony Parker
Two offensive-minded floor leaders face off for the first time this season. With fellow starting guard Manu Ginobili sidelined 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, Parker is San Antonios leading scorer at over 16 points per game. Parker also has been a more effective distributor in his 11th pro season, averaging a career-high 7.3 assists through the first 15 games. In a similar set of circumstances, with fellow starting guard Eric Gordon sidelined recently with a knee injury, Jack has been New Orleans top scorer. The Georgia Tech product authored a recent stretch of multiple games of 20-plus points. Like Parker, Jack is also averaging a career-best in assists.


For several years, a growing group of NBA analysts have predicted the imminent demise of the San Antonio Spurs, based on the advancing age of their prominent contributors. With longtime franchise player Tim Duncan poised to turn 36 in April and versatile guard Manu Ginobili at 34, the Spurs are often the subject of talk that their best days may be behind them. However, year after year, the Spurs continue to show that they still should be considered an elite NBA team. After finishing 61-21 last season but getting eliminated by eighth-seeded Memphis in the first round of the playoffs, there was more concern about San Antonios future. However, despite Ginobili being injured in the fifth game of 2011-12, the Spurs are off to another excellent start. The four-time NBA champions were 10-5 through the first 15 games of the regular season, highlighted by victories over defending league titlist Dallas and fast-starting clubs such as Denver, Orlando and the L.A. Clippers.

Whats new
The Spurs didnt make widespread changes in the offseason, but they managed to acquire another valuable role player during the 2011 NBA Draft. In exchange for veteran combo guard George Hill, who was traded to the Indiana Pacers, San Antonio picked up 6-foot-7 forward Kahwi Leonard. Leonard led San Diego State to a surprisingly stellar 2010-11 NCAA season and has received additional minutes with the Spurs partly due to Ginobilis injury. He had one six-game stretch from Jan. 8-17 in which tallied double-figure points every night. The Spurs other significant offseason addition was the signing of backup point guard T.J. Ford. The eight-year veteran tore his left hamstring in a Jan. 10 game and will be out 4-6 weeks.

Spurs star
With Duncan shouldering a reduced scoring load in recent years, Tony Parker has become San Antonios No. 1 offensive option. Despite being listed at just 6-foot-2, the native of France is one of the NBAs best finishers in the paint. He frequently uses his impressive quickness to drive past defenders, then relies on an array of crafty floaters and reverse layups to get his shot off over bigger players. The 29-year-old is the rare guard who rarely relies on outside shots through the first 15 games of the season, he had not made a three-pointer.

Spur on the rise
Its been a considerable challenge for Danny Green to cement a role in the NBA early in his career, but the North Carolina product is now proving he belongs at this level. Green appeared in just 20 games a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers, then in just eight games for the Spurs last season. However, the 6-foot-6 guard was on the floor for each of San Antonios first 15 games, highlighted by two games of 20-plus points. On Jan. 17 in Miami, Green poured in 20 points while going 6-for-7 from three-point range.

On the sideline
Spend any time talking to the Hornets Dell Demps and Monty Williams about their post-playing careers, and theyll invariably bring up the influence of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. A four-time champion with the Spurs, Popovich may be the most respected coach in the entire NBA. In a recent poll among the leagues 30 general managers, Popovich received the most votes to multiple questions, including Who is the best head coach in the NBA? and Which head coach makes the best in-game adjustments? He also finished in the top five in Who is the best offensive head coach? and Who is the best defensive head coach?

Did you know?
The Spurs franchise actually began play in Dallas in 1967, as a member of the old American Basketball Association. Known then as the Dallas Chaparrals, they played in the same Western Division of the ABA as the New Orleans Buccaneers. During their inaugural season, the Chaparrals finished two games behind first-place New Orleans. The Chaps relocated to San Antonio in 1973 while changing their nickname to the Spurs, then later joined the NBA in the 1976 merger.

Players the Spurs want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Spurs need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through Jan. 19)
Best option on Spurs team ranked just 27th in accuracy.
Tends to stay on perimeter, rarely drives to basket.
Parker (73.3), Duncan (68.8) are both below average at line.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Jan. 19)
Slow delivery and odd shooting form but deadly effective.
Shot 41.9 percent as a rookie from beyond arc.
Red-hot start, made 19 of first 38 attempts in January.

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