The San Antonio Spurs have no serious title hopes this season, not without Tim Duncan. That is one unfortunate truth they will have to accept. The NBA championship title has now become little more than a dream for them.
Everyone knew that the Spurs would struggle to find their rhythm without Tim Duncan; however, in losing 101-99 to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, it was made clear to fans just how impactful Duncan’s departure had been.
It is difficult to believe that the Spurs actually finished Number One in Defensive Rating last year, not with the way they are performing now. Duncan had a way of keeping them airtight defensively.
LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee proved on Wednesday that they simply couldn’t replace Duncan, decent as they were. It isn’t lost on fans that the Spurs were 11th in defense going into the match with the Rockets.
The Spurs haven’t really fallen out of the Top 10 in Defense since Duncan’s Rookie year, this not including the 2010-2011 season; while San Antonio fans shouldn’t be too quick to panic, they have every reason to worry.
The team has to do some soul searching if they are to find their way back to the top. The Rockets were not an easy opponent, and maybe the Spurs cannot be completely faulted for losing to them on Wednesday.
The Rockers have a savant in James Harden. The all-round offensive dynamo is something to behold, capable of finishing at the rim, finding teammates for wide-open locks and even getting to the line.
Harden uses every game to show people the MVP that he believes himself to be, and it would take an extraordinary defense to contain him, which is the farthest thing from what the Spurs have.
The Spurs were not completely helpless during the game. They actually came quite close to attaining victory, though that doesn’t mean they are free from blame. The mistakes in their ranks were obvious.
Popovich pointed out in an interview that his squad gave up too many easy looks in transition against the Rockets. The Spurs kept surrendering fast-break opportunities. Some pundits have suggested that the Spurs’ biggest problem is miscommunication.
Aldridge is one player whose problems have only grown in the absence of Duncan. Whereas Duncan and Leonard could compensate for most of his deficiencies last year, Aldridge is all on his own this time. His mistakes are simply too obvious to ignore.
The fourth quarter had one particular sequence that put Aldridge to shame. The Spurs lost containment on a roller and the Rockets got an easy look at the rim because Aldridge fumbled when he came face to face with Harden.
Aldridge just couldn’t catch any breaks as Harden humiliated him over and over again. And it is worth noting that Aldridge is usually an acceptable defender. However, the Spurs do not yet have a scheme that brings the best out of him.
And if Aldridge wasn’t bad enough, Gasol was even worse. San Antonio needs time to get its act together. There is still room for improvement. Hopefully, Dewayne Dedmon can give them the push they need, though that seems highly unlikely in the near future.