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Nothing But Net: Spurs of the moment hardly recognizable

Nothing But Net: Spurs of the moment hardly recognizable
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There are people who have closely followed the NBA for two decades who have no memory whatsoever of a Spurs team that is struggling as mightily as this one is.

LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs lost by more than 30 points three times in a recent four-game stretch.  (Edward A. Ornelas / GETTY IMAGES)

After a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, the Spurs awoke as occupiers of 14th place in the 15-team Western Conference, owners of an 11-14 record and one of the worst defences in recent franchise history.

What’s more incredible? In a four-game span punctuated by that loss to Utah, San Antonio had lost three games by more than 30 three times.

Three in 1,717. Three in four.

These are nothing like the Spurs every fan has come to know — or any new Spurs player, for that matter.

“It’s frustrating,” DeMar DeRozan was quoted as saying after the Lakers loss. “This organization hasn’t lost like this — I haven’t lost like this — in a while.

“So close against so many great teams, and (then losing) a few games in an embarrassing way sucks, but we’re all grown men. We have to understand the beauty of adversity is how you get out of it.”

It’s probably too early to totally count the Spurs out. They were only two games out of eighth place in the West going into Thursday night and there is talent on the team.

They have been decimated by the loss of emerging point guard Dejounte Murray to injury, plus Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto. Manu Ginobili retired and Tony Parker went to Charlotte. So, the extenuating circumstances are legit. But they are still the Spurs, and to count them out of at least playoff contention now is a stretch.

DeRozan’s been great — he’s had 19 games of 20 or more points already this year — and fans and opponents take the Spurs lightly at their peril.

One of the more interesting facts is that there isn’t a lot of glee around the NBA over what San Antonio is going through. None of the other 29 teams are cheering for them and everyone who plays them wants to beat them, but San Antonio’s reputation as a first-class organization for decades has at least bought them a measure of sympathy. Every team goes through rebuilding periods at some point — it’s the circle of NBA life — and the feeling is that because the Spurs are the Spurs, and coach Gregg Popovich is universally respected, this one isn’t as gleefully accepted as many others.

But the reality is that these are unfamiliar times in San Antonio and, in some way, the league feels different because they aren’t good.

Around the NBA

Fred Hoiberg’s out as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls after a rather head-scratching firing this week, let go from a bad team playing without three fine young players in Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn for basically the entire season. Was it his fault? No, not in the least, but he’s not the most dynamic guy in the world and that played a role in his dismissal. At some point, don’t his bosses have to be held somewhat accountable? Having elevated assistant Jim Boylen to the head job, the upper management duo of vice-president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Foreman are now on coach No. 5 of their rule. They hired — and fired — Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro, Tom Thibodeau and Hoiberg — before giving the gig to Boylen. Wonder when their numbers will be up?

THREE-ACT KLAY: It’s right that so much of the attention focused on the Golden State Warriors centres on Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, two transcendent stars who will likely vie for most valuable player honours. But the third member of the Big Three is killing it, and who knows where the Warriors would be without him. Klay Thompson rattled off nine straight games of 20 points or more, a career best for him and the last one being a 21-point outing earlier this week against Atlanta. The streak ended Wednesday night, but Thompson is still averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting 46 per cent from the field.

BOTTLED ROCKETS: A season ago, when the Houston Rockets won a league-best 65 games, the threesome of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela was basically unstoppable when they all played, going an astonishing 42-3. Not so much this season. In the first 15 games they’ve appeared in together, the Rockets have already lost five times.

KING GEORGE: Oklahoma City’s Paul George has had some dominant quarters in his career, but none better than the fourth quarter he threw up against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. George had 25 points in that fourth quarter, the most by any Thunder player since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City. George not only outscored the Nets 25-19 singlehandedly in the quarter, he had four three-pointers to one for Brooklyn and outrebounded the Nets 6-4. Not bad for a guy who was going to play one season in Oklahoma City before moving on to be LeBron James’ sidekick with the Lakers.

SPEAKING OF JAMES … The most dominant player in the game has somehow dragged a rather rag-tag group of Los Angeles Lakers — young kids still learning the game and veterans on the downside — to four straight wins and a 15-9 record. He punctuated the streak by scoring 20 fourth-quarter points in a win over San Antonio on Wednesday. Much has been made of James’ role with the Lakers and whether he’s a good teammate for a developing roster. He doesn’t seem to care. “I’m past the (taking things) personal stage,” James told reporters after the Spurs game. “I can do whatever. I can have a huge workload, I can have a not so huge workload … It doesn’t matter for me. What’s most important is seeing my teammates make huge shots in the fourth quarter … That’s what’s most important to me. I (couldn’t) care less about the narrative about me. It doesn’t matter. I’m a staple in this game.”
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