As it stands now, there’s only one team in the West with a real shot at keeping the Thunder from reaching the NBA Finals, and it’s the Spurs, winners of four trophies and still moving along with the nucleus of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
In a seven-game series, where half-court basketball rules, you’d have to give the Spurs a decent chance, especially given their veteran leadership and championship experience. Plus, this could be Duncan’s last ride; he becomes a free agent this summer and it would not be a big surprise if he just decided to retire.
Given T.J. Ford’s sudden retirement yesterday, shouldn’t the Spurs seek insurance in the backcourt, where they’re somewhat thin? Well, if you believe in Gary Neal, then maybe not. However, this isn’t the time to take a chance on Ginobili’s body. Maybe the Spurs should take a serious look in getting some relief help; someone who comes to mind is D.J. Augustin, the former University of Texas star who’s being shopped by the Bobcats and has the attention of the Blazers, perhaps.
Running the point is a bit of a twist for Neal, whose chores were mostly restricted to knocking down open jumpers. He spoke with the Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News about a potential new rold:
(Gregg) Popovich said Neal will continue to get some time at shooting guard, as he did in Monday’s 112-97 victory over the Washington Wizards. He attempted only two 3-pointers in the game, making one.
Neal knows his primary focus must be learning to run the team from the point.
“It changes my whole role,” he said. “My position, the shots I was accustomed to getting, the way I have to play, all of it changes.
“The biggest thing is the mental approach changes. As much as I would love to be a 42 or 43 percent 3-point shooter, which is how I’ve been judged since I got here and how I judge myself, shooting 3-pointers at the point guard position is totally different. As far as I can tell, there’s only two guys in the league who shoot 40 percent from the point guard position, and that’s Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash.
“You just have to change your mentality and your understanding that your value to the team has changed. Once you accept that, I think the rest of it comes pretty routinely.”
This is a point guard’s league right now, with stars or potential stars lining almost every team. In the West, the Spurs could ultimately face Russell Westbrook at some point in the playoffs; do they have enough in Parker to reduce worries about the position? Besides, there isn’t enough practice time left in the season for Neal to “learn” to play the point. The Spurs would be wise to keep their options open, in case a point guard is available by Thursday.