On a snowy Sunday at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets will look to avenge their worst loss of the 2012-13 season when they battle the San Antonio Spurs in a nationally-televised prime-time battle.
The Spurs have won 17 of their last 18 against the Nets, with their 104-73 victory on New Year’s Eve in San Antonio still the largest margin of defeat the Nets have faced this season – and in outscoring Brooklyn 30-5 in the third quarter of that game, San Antonio held the Nets to their lowest single-quarter output in franchise history.
Both that loss and the team's recent swoon that has seen them lose five of their last eight, are fresh in interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo’s mind, and he’s hoping he has pinpointed the catalysts for the latter as the All-Star break approaches.
“I don’t think we’re playing with the same enthusiasm and confidence that we were, and that transmits into a lot of different aspects of our game,” Carlesimo said. “We have to get back to having a little more fun and playing through mistakes; lately, we’ve not been doing that as consistently.”
San Antonio has been one of the NBA’s elite teams for the last 15 years, and despite their injuries and rough schedule, the Spurs currently have the NBA’s best record at 39-12. Carlesimo was with the team from 2002-07 as one of Popovich’s assistants and won three NBA titles on the Spurs’ bench, and knows that no matter who is in the lineup, it’s a tough go because of the system and those who run it.
“Clearly it’s personnel first, starting with David (Robinson) and now Timmy (Duncan), and when you add a Parker and a Ginobili, you have three of the elite players in the league, and they’re winners,” Carlesimo said, “but having said that, I think (Spurs GM) R.C. (Buford) does a great job in putting that roster together; there’s been a lot of pieces in and out of that roster, but the core has stayed the same, and (Popovich) is beyond excellent in his understanding of the game, the way he teaches it, and most importantly, the way he handles people. Players like to play for him, and understand when he’s demanding and what he asks of them. It’s a great system, and it’s rolling.”
Tonight, San Antonio will once again be without Tim Duncan (sore left knee) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring), with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saying that neither will dress tonight and intimating they may both be out until after the break.
“It’s about their health; we need to have those guys healthy and energetic at the end of the year,” Popovich said. “Things work a lot better with them than without, so I’m not going to take any chances. If I err, it’s going to be on the conservative side.”
Those absences may be either a blessing or a curse for the Nets, who have as of late not played well against teams at less than full strength. But with those two out, Carlesimo knows the onus will once again be on point guard Tony Parker, who has gone for 30 or more points in three of his last five games, to lead the offense – and that is a role that Carlesimo believes Parker is so good at, he called the French star “the one (San Antonio) can’t afford to lose.”
“(Parker) puts so much pressure on the defense; he is the focal point of their half-court offense, he’s as good a pick-and-roll guard as there is in the league, and in transition, he’s as good as there is going coast-to-coast,” Carlesimo said. “He’s not a guy you can play with one person; you need people back, but the problem with that is they have shooters, so when he gets by his guy and sucks in other defenders, you have other guys hitting jump shots.”
With the Spurs having to run small lineups, one player who could get an extended look for the Nets tonight is Mirza Teletovic; Carlesimo said during the morning shoot-around that he has an expectation of what most of his players can and can’t do but the staff is “still not there with Mirza,” and the coach isn’t against changing up his lineup tonight if need be.
“Depending on how the game evolves, we may move around; if we’re going okay, we may get guys out a little earlier in the first so they’re fresher in the second,” Carlesimo said. “Maybe we won’t stretch it out as much, or maybe we’ll look at the group that starts the second and put them on a shorter leash.”
One other thing to watch for that is in the Spurs favor, especially given Brooklyn’s proclivity for struggling in the third quarter, is the fact that San Antonio is the best final-period team in the league. The Spurs average 26.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting in the fourth, both totals that are tops in the NBA, and their 40.9 three-point percentage in the final frame is second in the league.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES