The Spurs’ fifth-annual rodeo road trip started off with a bang on January 28 when Kobe Bryant’s elbow cracked into Manu Ginobili’s nose during San Antonio’s overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant’s subsequent one-game suspension for the transgression registered minor aftershocks in the TV sports world. Mired in the dull minutiae of Super Bowl media day, broadcasters repeatedly dissected the incident, with their attitudes serving as barometers for how much ESPN still loves the Lakers, and how the Spurs generally seem to get slighted in these types of situations.
The Spurs followed up the thrilling win with disappointing losses against the surprising Utah Jazz, and the Phoenix Suns that, like the Dallas Mavericks, appear to be smoking just about every opponent they face these days. After the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich matter-of-factly addressed the defeat. “We lost,” Popovich said on Suns.com. “I don’t think we were worn out. They played better than us. They made some shots down the stretch, we
didn’t make shots. They got away from us once in a while in transition. Overall we did a pretty good job.”
“We’re playing well for a good bit of the game, but we haven’t closed games as well as we’re going to have to, obviously,” added Tim Duncan, who was recently voted by fans to his ninth NBA All-Star Game. “It is what it is. You have to go through the ups and downs.”
Prior to the Phoenix contest, Spurs guard Tony Parker learned that he was selected by the league’s coaches for his second straight All-Star Game, becoming just the sixth Spur with multiple All-Star appearances. The selection came as a surprise for Parker who was already slated to participate in the league’s All-Star Saturday night festivities but did not expect to make it to the mid-season classic. Parker plans to keep this year’s involvement in Las Vegas low-key compared to last season in Houston, where he hosted three separate events and made his official musical performance debut.
Next up for the Spurs on the rodeo road trip is a visit to the nation’s capital, where the Washington Wizards await with a pair of All-Stars of their own. Gilbert “Agent Zero” Arenas was narrowly voted in by fans over New Jersey’s Vince Carter, and teammate Caron Butler was selected by coaches as a reserve. When the two teams met at the AT&T Center a couple of weeks ago, San Antonio walked away with a win when Arenas fizzled more than sizzled. The Spurs should expect a monster redemption game from Mr. Hibachi.
Speaking of Arenas, his successful mission to have his game acknowledged, dubbed by Arenas as “The Takeover,” has emerged as one of the more colorful surprises of the NBA season. Arenas has documented his ascension in a league blog (tinyurl.com/ymlrol) that is one of the most honest and engaging basketball reads you can find. Prior to facing off against the Spurs in the Alamo City, he reflected on his opponent. “The Spurs, against a team like that, you have to have everything clicking,” writes Arenas. “They have the perfect NBA defense and they have the perfect NBA offense. They’re one of those teams that every team wants to be like.”
In another entry, Arenas looked forward to this week’s contest: “They crushed us up in San Antonio, but we play better at home, so hopefully we have all of our elements clicking when we play them,” he writes.
I normally avoid internet sports-themed forums and sports talk radio for the obvious reasons. If I want to hear sycophantic, self-referencing rants I’d rather turn to one of SA’s commercial hip-hop stations, where I can at least hear some nice beats amidst the posturing.
But when I perused Slam Magazine’s take on Kobe’s recent suspension, via Slamonline.com, I was greeted by various anti-Spurs sentiments, including a quip from someone named Shiz that brought a smile to my face and summed up the mounting adversity the team is facing this season. “Every time Ginobili gets hammered,” Shiz writes, “an angel gets its wings.”
With Phoenix and Dallas ascendant, and the Spurs facing serious questions about whether they’ve become a declining power, it’s time for the rest of the team to “cowboy up” like the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and use what’s left of the rodeo road trip to set a tone for the remainder of the season.