By David Thiessen
For San Antonio Spurs fans, checking the schedule and looking at match-ups might be more important than ever, especially the first 20-25 games. Losing Manu Ginobili after ankle surgery will do that.
Before we start breaking down the schedule, with special attention paid to the first 20-25 games and also the Rodeo Roadtrip, here are some dates to mark on the calendar and games to watch.
Oct. 29 vs. Phoenix – The first game of the season pits the two bitter rivals against each other, although the loss of Mike D’antoni changes things. This might also be last chance for a championship for both teams.
Oct. 31 at Portland – The Present (Tim Duncan) meets the Future (Greg Oden). Duncan has been the standard for the past decade and Oden is looking to take that title over.
Nov. 4 vs. Dallas – Dallas’ window is also closing but it’s always a big deal when these two teams meet.
Nov. 14 vs. Houston – Houston will bring it’s new Big Three of Yao, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest to San Antonio for the first time.
Dec. 4 at Denver – The Spurs make their first appearance on TNT against the Nuggets. Unfortunately, Ginobili won’t be back for Charles Barkley to shout his name.
Dec. 14 vs. Oklahoma City – Can Kevin Durant, Sam Presti and co. defend their home court against the Spurs? Not likely.
Dec. 17 at New Orleans – A rematch from the thrilling Western Conference Semifinals last year, this could be Ginobili’s first game back. Also, any game against a division rival is an important one.
Jan. 14 vs. Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers are the favorite to win the West and this will be the Spurs first shot at them.
Jan. 31 vs. New Orleans – The Spurs better enjoy their last night sleeping at home because this is their last home game for three weeks, not to mention another important division game.
Feb. 8 at Boston – The third game of the Rodeo Roadtrip, this will be an important test for the Spurs with Ginobili hopefully fully healthy.
Feb. 19 at Detroit – The seventh game on the road will be another big test. Detroit has disappointed in the playoffs recently, but they still present a major challenge on the road.
Feb. 24 vs. Dallas – Finally home after three weeks on the road, the Spurs won’t have time to relax with the Mavericks coming to town.
March 12 vs. Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe. Ginobili. Gasol. Duncan. Phil. Pop. TNT. The final season match-up between the two teams. Gotta love it.
March 22 vs. Houston – This is another key division game that could have tie breaker implications.
April 15 vs. New Orleans – By the final game of the season, most teams have the starters resting, but the Spurs and Hornets could be battling for playoff position.
Now lets take a quick look at two key stretches of the season: the first 20-25 games and the Rodeo Roadtrip.
With Ginobili out to start the season, it’s important that the Spurs don’t fall too far behind the competition. Even when he returns, it will take time for him to be back at his normal free-wheeling self.
Of the first 25 games, 13 are against teams that made the playoffs last year, 14 if you include Portland, which should be in the hunt for a spot this year. The Spurs also have 12 road games and 13 home games. While it isn’t a tough start to the season, it isn’t easy either. Some of those playoff teams, like Atlanta and Denver, are below the Spurs, even a Ginobili-less team. Looking at the games, I think the Spurs can expect to go 16-9 or 15-10. They would probably trail New Orleans, Houston and/or Dallas in the division, but it would be manageable.
As almost everybody knows, however, the Spurs don’t worry too much about the early part of the season as long as they can kick everything into form with the Rodeo Roadtrip in February. This year’s version consists of eight games, five of which are against playoff teams from last year. They also have to play Golden State, which is always a wildcard. In the past, the Spurs have struggled with back-to-back games. There are two such games, with Golden State on Feb. 2 and Denver on Feb. 3, and New Jersey on Feb. 10 and Toronto on Feb. 11. However, there are two nice breaks during the trip, with four days off before facing Boston and five days off for All-Star weekend before playing New York. The Rodeo Roadtrip brings added importance because Ginobili will have only been back for a little over a month. Nobody know how long it will take for him to regain his form, but this trip will be a huge indicator to how ready he, and the Spurs, are for the rest of the season.
• 2008-09 Spurs Season Calendar (iCal)
• 2008-09 Spurs Season Calendar (Outlook/Palm)
By David Thiessen