Rodeo Road Trip Better (So Far) Than Expected For McDyess

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Antonio McDyess
(Noah Graham/Getty Images)

If you wanted to follow the Spurs by car on the first leg of their annual rodeo road trip, you would have needed a large supply NoDoz, if not a second and third driver. According to one Internet calculation, it’s a 1 day, 11-hour trip from San Antonio to Portland, and that doesn’t take into account breaks for rest, eating or leg-stretching.

According to another site, the recent swing from here to Portland to Los Angeles to Sacramento and back to San Antonio covered 5,193 miles. But that’s not as the-crow-flies air miles-- that’s mapquest miles.

Spurs forward-center Antonio McDyess was not especially looking forward to the first leg of the trip, and he didn’t have to drive. His concern wasn’t distance; it was back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Sitting beside his locker before the Spurs’ last home game on Jan. 29, McDyess released a quiet sigh when asked about the upcoming trip. “It’s long,” he said, his voice rising barely above a whisper, “and it’s tiring.”

He paused for a moment, his mind drifting. Finally, he offered this: “We didn’t have such a good outcome after the first trip,” he said, referring to last year’s 4-4 record.

If McDyess in late January could have seen the outcome of those back-to-backs in early February, he may have danced. He certainly would have enjoyed packing a lot more.

In a tight, back-and-forth game against the Lakers, all Dyess did was make the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer. Then the oldest Spur (age 36) leaped and celebrated and ran off the court on legs that felt like they were 26. “I was in the right place at the right time,“ he told reporters in Los Angeles after the game.

McDyess contributed more than the game-winner. In 29 minutes, he scored eight points, grabbed eight rebounds, made five assists, played tough D and showed energy and spring in those old legs.

The next night in Sacramento went better than he expected. Tiago Splitter grabbed the most minutes in reserve (28:55), played well (16 points, nine rebounds) and saved a little wear and tear on McDyess, who played 19:52.

It’s been that kind of season for the Spurs, better than anyone could have scripted. The starters have remained healthy, key reserves are producing -- Matt Bonner is finally back -- and victories are piling up at a head-turning rate.

Breaks? Thirty four-year-old Tim Duncan collapses against Golden State, clutching his left knee, and Spurs Nation gasps. But Duncan springs back and finishes with 16 points and seven rebounds. Thirty three-year-old Manu Ginobili takes an inadvertent elbow to the face from Gary Neal, leaves the Sacramento game, and soldiers on to Detroit with a fat lip.

If the Spurs appear charmed, they also appear very good. They own the league’s best record, claim two victories over the defending champion Lakers, and keep finding ways to win, even on off nights.

Historically, the Spurs play well during their annual February sojourn -- they’re 47-21 since 2003 -- though no one is quite sure why. All these Spurs know is they relished three days at home to rest bruised and weary bodies before embarking on the second leg, which began Tuesday with a victory in Detroit.

Sweet game for McDyess. Six points, seven boards and one blocked shot in 21:45 against his former team. For the grizzled vet, the countdown to the end has begun: five games in nine days and a blur of beds in different hotels. He’s almost halfway through a trip that covers more than 8,100 miles through the air.

If McDyess were going to the All-Star game, the month would be a monster. His All-Star teammates and head coach will spend less than 48 hours in San Antonio during the first three weeks of February.

George Hill knows what’s ahead and is fully prepared. “I”m taking two big double suitcases,” he said after the Spurs last home game. Hill admits he’s not the best traveler. He ran out of boxers on his first rodeo road trip and had to go shopping. He also is prone to misplacing phone chargers. “I think I’ve bought over 1,000 of them,” he said.

Rookie Gary Neal wasn’t sure how to pack or what to expect. But he thought the February trip might remind him of his days in the Euroleague, where virtually every road game was a foreign adventure. He bounced from Spain to Russia to Italy to France to Greece to Israel to Croatia to Serbia to Bosnia and Lithuania. The worst of it? “The flight from Spain to Russia was five to six hours,” he recalled. “And when we landed, we had to practice a couple of times.”

It’s a long wait until the next home game. Two weeks to be exact. McDyess may not get the rest between games he’d like but he’ll settle for something better than z’s: more Ws on a rugged rodeo road trip that’s begun with a yee-haw.