Posted: Thursday April 7, 2005 12:46PM; Updated: Sunday April 10, 2005 12:00PM
On the court, two of Popovich's shrewd draft choices are keeping San Antonio within striking distance of conference-leading Phoenix. Tony Parker (chosen 28th in 2001) and Manu Ginobili (57th in 1999) have averaged a combined 30.8 points and 10.4 assists over the past five games, while Brent Barry, an offseason acquisition, has come alive over the same stretch, posting a season-high 11.6 points and 4.4 rebounds.
It's not just the numbers. San Antonio has embraced Popovich's hard-nosed defensive concept. Even without Duncan, the Spurs remain the stingiest team in the league, giving up only 87.1 points per game. Centers Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic have manned the middle admirably in Duncan's absence, and Bruce Bowen remains the best on-the-ball defender in the game. Why? Any time you have a quality scorer (such as Ray Allen or Vince Carter) griping about the way you play defense, you know you're doing something right.
Can San Antonio survive a seven-game series without Duncan? That I can't say. As of Thursday the Spurs would be matched up with the streaking Denver Nuggets, who have won five in a row and nine out of their past 10 under the enigmatic George Karl. San Antonio will need Duncan operating out of the low post to keep the run-and-gun Nuggets from controlling the tempo.
Will Duncan be back? Who knows. But until then, count on Popovich and co. to keep the Spurs playing at an elite level. Just don't expect them to draw attention to themselves doing it.
I don't know about Sean May. I'm not talking about May the college player, the man who dominated the NCAA tournament and looked like he could be a legitimate force at the next level. I'm talking about May the pro prospect, who at 6-foot-7 (no, he is not 6-9), 255 pounds may not be able to handle the size and athleticism most NBA power forwards possess. I can't help but think back to the ACC tournament, where May's lack of leaping ability caused him to have an inordinate amount of shots blocked or contested. However, the last player to have parlay a monster NCAA tournament into prime draft selection was Kansas' Nick Collison (remember that 30-20 game he had against Syracuse?). If draftniks think May can equal Collison's production at the next level, he might be worth a look in the middle of the first round.
Congratulations, David Stern. By not suspending Miami forward Udonis Haslem (as I thought you would) you sent a clear message that certain protection rights will be given to players standing up for their teammates. Haslem's reaction to Bulls forward Andres Nocioni's hard foul/push to Dwyane Wade was perfect: He didn't throw a punch, he simply delivered a hard shove that sent Nocioni sprawling -- hilariously -- into the first row of the stands. No punches were thrown, no melee ensued, just one player sending a message that cheap shots on his superstar will not be tolerated. Kudos, Udonis!
Looks like I just might get my wish. After years of coaching retreads being hired, fired and then hired again, it appears Portland is leaning towards hiring Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni as its head coach next season. Iavaroni has paid his dues -- he had a 14-year career as a player and coach and is a student of Pat Riley and Mike Fratello. Iavaroni deserves this opportunity, as do many assistants working at this level. The sooner the NBA realizes this, the better off it will be.