HANG TIME, Texas — Things change.
Isn’t that what they say?
Maybe one day we’ll wake up to find the sun rising in the west, gravity no longer holding our feet onto the ground and the NBA’s most low-profile elite franchise going all Lindsay Lohan for the tabloids.
Six weeks into the season and the headlines out of San Antonio have been the $250,000 fine for “Popgate,” the Internet furor over the Halloween prank photo showing Tony Parker and Tim Duncan “attacking” a made-up referee Joe Crawford, and then Stephen Jackson got nicked for $25,000 for his threatening tweet about Serge Ibaka.
All that might be missing is the “Bad boy, bad boys…” music from “COPS” playing during the introduction of starting lineups.
So here came coach Gregg Popovich out of the locker room prior to Monday night’s game in Houston dressed head-to-toe in black, in keeping with the Spurs’ new bad boy image?
“It was clean,” Pop said, laughing. “It was the first thing I saw hanging in my closet and I had to take one. It’s not a message. There’s no gothic message here or anything like that.”
Indeed, the only directive delivered from the opening day of training camp was Popovich’s belief that his team had surrendered its identity to the Thunder after building a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals last June, failing to share the ball on offense at crunch time in four straight losses and never really making a commitment to defense.
“We were mediocre last year defensively,” he said.
Their 134-126 overtime ABA throwback win over the Rockets notwithstanding, the message has been heeded.
The Spurs are back with a league-best 18-4 record because they are back to minding virtually all of the details at both ends of the court. They are the first team since the 2001 Kings to rank in the top five in the NBA in offense, defense and pace of play.
They have done this while playing the most travel-wearying schedule in the league to date. The stop in Houston was already their 13th away game and the Spurs won 11 of them, giving them more road wins than 16 other NBA teams have total wins on the season.
They have done it piling up injuries at the small forward position that have already kept Kawhi Leonard out of 13 games and Jackson out a dozen and counting.
The Spurs have done it because their bench has stepped up in a big way, because the 36-year-old Duncan is playing at a level close to his MVP seasons, and Parker continues his ascendance as the driving force in the offense, evidenced by his first career triple-double — and the first by a Spurs guard since 1986 — against the Rockets.
They do it because even on a night when Duncan shoots just 1-for-9 from the field, he pulled down seven of his 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter and OT and took a page from Tom Brady’s Monday Night Football playbook and heaved a long “touchdown” pass that Manu Ginobili turned into a clinching three-point play.
While the young Thunder keep streaking, the Grizzlies keep flexing their muscles and the Knicks keep surprising, the Spurs just keep doing what they’ve always done, even in a season when they’ve attracted more attention for their sins than their wins.
“It’s drama to other people, but things happen and we move on,” Popovich said. “We don’t even discuss it. Nobody even talks about it.”
Just not the Spurs.