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San Antonio Spurs
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An opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs

People like to point out that the Spurs tend to win the championship every other year, like they're incapable of mounting the drive to win back-to-back titles. But I don't think it's true. When they lost two years ago, they were not healthy. Tim Duncan's foot was hurting all year long, Manu Ginobili was all banged up and not in the best shape -- and they still were one stupid Ginobili play away [against Dallas in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals] from going back to the NBA Finals. So I think they have to be the favorite to win it again this year, but their health is going to be the issue. If they can stay healthy -- especially Tony Parker, Ginobili and Duncan -- that's the key ...

The other issue will be all of their aging guys who are still around their three stars. They have 10 players in all who are 30 or older. Robert Horry was definitely not the same player last year, and Brent Barry and Jacque Vaughn are also showing signs of age ...

You'll see them sacrificing the opportunity to win games early in the season because they'd rather rest their key guys in order to peak for the playoff run. That's a really hard thing for a coach to do, but Gregg Popovich has done it for so long and they've all seen the success of doing it. With a team full of guys who are getting up there in age, it definitely has to be a priority and the entire team realizes what he's doing ...

It was obvious while watching Parker win Finals MVP that he's improved his shooting tremendously, and that's a compliment to their coaching staff. All teams used to go under the screen on him, but the way he's shooting it now puts pressure on the defense to go out and challenge his jump shot -- which then enables him to do the thing he does best, which is go to the basket. It's been a tremendous improvement for him, and everyone in the league has been forced to adapt. But there's no easy answer to defending him now. I think most teams have found that if you're able to put a much bigger guy on him, instead of defending him with your point guard, then you're better off, because the bigger guy can contest the outside shot and has a better chance of dealing with him when he gets inside ...

I wondered if Duncan was in decline after he'd gone the whole 2005-06 season with his injury, but they did a great job of rehabbing him over the summer and getting him ready for last season. Everyone I know who's had plantar fasciitis like he had it says that it's an excruciating thing to go through. But when I watched him in the playoffs last year, he sure looked as good as ever. Over the years, he's gotten bigger physically and that makes him harder to defend because he still has his quickness and his great footwork. And he is such a great team player that the minute teams try to scheme and double-team him, he becomes one of the best in the league at finding his teammates. They do such a great job as a team preparing him for all of the things that can happen. He knows where all of the cutters can be and he finds them consistently ...

The difference for Duncan is that he's so much more skilled than any of the big men in today's game. When opponents go small, as almost everyone seems to be doing out of necessity, it doesn't bother him to play against smaller and quicker people because of his skills. And then his teammates are put in the right spots to succeed around him, and he's been in the system so long that he knows how to take advantage of every little thing ...

How he's not the starting center on the All-Star team is a joke. They list him at power forward, but he's playing center most of the game these days. He's definitely more of a center than a power forward ...

When Duncan eventually slows down, it's not going to affect him like it does most other guys. He'll still be able to score inside and he'll still block shots because he's smart and knows where to be in their defense. It won't be a huge issue until he gets to the point that he's not able to run up the court as much, which would make him vulnerable against smaller and quicker opponents ...

After a year in their system, I'd expect center Francisco Elson to be better for them. Pop can be hard on newer guys if they're not giving him exactly what he needs. With Horry being in decline and the need to rest Duncan, they'll need more from Elson this year ...

I always wonder how much longer Ginobili can play at this level because he's 30 this year, and he plays so hard and sacrifices his body. But Dan Majerle played like that and he lasted a long time. Ginobili's heart won't let him stop, so now I'm guessing he'll be at it for a long time to come. No matter how hard he gets banged up or hurt, he'll figure out how to take advantage of somebody somehow ...

Ginobili is a better decision-maker than he used to be, but overall his game has stayed at the high level they need from him. The thing that separates Ginobili from others is his lack of ego. He doesn't care if he starts or comes off the bench. He knows he's going to be in there for the key moments, and he does everything -- he plays defense, he passes it great and he does too many other good things to mention. I can't think of anyone else in the league today who compares to Ginobili. He's a truly special player ...

I'm one of those who thinks Bruce Bowen is a dirty player, but I'll also be the first to admit that he's truly effective in his methods. He shows great gamesmanship in what always has been and always will be a league of reputations, and because he has the reputation, he gets away with all of the things he does. For example, the teams that are known as physical defensive teams are allowed to play that way. But then you look at the teams that don't have the reputation for being physical, when they try to play a more physical style, they get whistled for it ...

Bowen has a number of tricks that other people in the league wouldn't be allowed to do. He has a great karate chop move in which he continuously hits at the ball and sometimes, of course, he'll hit the player too. Overall, he does a lot of hitting on the wrists and forearms that doesn't get called, and it's aggravating to the offensive players. He's very physical in terms of using his feet to move you out and to trip you up, or to hold you up with his feet; basically he knows how to trip, hold, grab and push his man and get away with it. And that's to his credit that he's learned all of those things and does them so well ...

Center Fabricio Oberto was phenomenally effective in the playoffs. They keep it very simple for bigs who play opposite Duncan, and after a year in their system, he learned exactly what they want him to do. He also shot the ball well out on the perimeter. He may be the best of all the Spurs at this: Whenever Duncan has the ball in the post, Oberto sits in the opposite block and when defender makes a little step up to help on Duncan, then Oberto steps under the basket and seals the defender. Oberto is really, really good at that, so when Duncan is in the post and you're guarding Oberto, you cannot afford to turn your head ...

The guy they picked up in the draft, Tiago Splitter, is staying in Europe this season. But he's an Oberto prototype -- in fact, he's even better than Oberto, a little more consistent ...

I couldn't believe they traded the rights to Luis Scola to Houston, where he's going to be the Rockets' power forward. I've heard it was entirely a money decision for San Antonio, but he's so much better than Oberto. The Spurs have done a tremendous job over the years of putting together their team, but this one I'm not sure about. It's hard to find big guys who are skilled like Scola is, and I think he would have helped take pressure off Duncan and reduce his minutes ...

It was interesting that they brought back the entire team to make another run, in spite of their ages. As bad as Horry was, he made what was probably the most important play of the year for them by fouling Nash and indirectly coaxing Amaré Stoudemire to get himself suspended in the conference semifinals against Phoenix. Bowen is 36, but he doesn't look like he's slowed any. There are times when Michael Finley looks old [he's 34], but he looked spry during the playoffs. There's going to come a time when these guys don't bounce back, but maybe they have one more championship in them as a group ...

I have questions about their backup point guards. Beno Udrih broke his left index finger in training camp, which basically took him out of preseason, though he didn't play much for them last year anyway. Shooting has always been an issue for Jacque Vaughn. He's a good setup man and he'll try to play defense, but if they're forced to play him for more than 10 or 15 minutes, they'll be asking too much ...

It looks like they're preparing Matt Bonner to be the replacement for Horry, but will he ever be as good as Robert? I think Bonner will be serviceable. He's similar in that he likes to play on the perimeter and he can shoot the ball, which Robert is good at. Bonner will give them some backup minutes, but I don't think they can trust him to be their main guy off bench for long periods and to play at that level that Horry established ...

One guy they picked up is Ime Udoka. He might get some minutes because the speed of the game looked like it was catching up with Barry, who appeared tired on his shot at times ...

I think there's always been some reservation about calling Popovich one of the great coaches because he's always had such great players. But I don't know how anyone can deny now that he's proven how good he is at taking advantage of every situation, of having his players in the exact spots t hey need to be and getting them to do their jobs and know their roles. Even their stars don't seem to be selfish, and he has a lot to do with that. I've seen him rip into them just like he ripped into their bench players ...

They don't change things up much, which is why the newer players have trouble fitting in and it takes them a while. But I think they might get off to a better start than normal because they have all of these guys coming back together this year and they're going to be able to do everything they want right off the bat without teaching it or simplifying it. That could be a big key for them in the regular season ...

Until they're beaten, they are the best team. It's been years since anyone beat them convincingly. I expect to see the same effort as last year with this being maybe the last year for their group of old role players. But at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a move at the deadline to get younger, because sooner or later they're going to have to replenish.

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