The Sonics and the Spurs have been an unusual matchup for quite some time. I still remember the playoffs in May of 2002 when the Sonics stunned the Spurs on their home floor in game two of the first round before falling in Seattle in game three. The Spurs went on to be spanked by the eventual NBA champion Lakers in the semi-finals. For one game Vinnie Baker seemed to find himself only to fade away when it really mattered. Then of course there was the best of 7 semifinals in 2004 where the Sonics took the eventual champion Spurs to six games, missing a seventh by a single flubbed defensive assignment in the final seconds of the game after an over-achieving 52 win season and dominating first round victory of Sacramento. The Spurs are, and have been, one of the most dominating teams in the NBA due to their skill, talent, and fundamentals based team play. The Sonics have remained a thorn in their side for years, however, they seem to be able to beat the Spurs both in Seattle and in San Antonio. Add to this the personal like the Bowen/Allen battle, the simmering anger of Hill's firing by Popovich, and the theft of Sonic fan favorite, Brent Barry, and there is always a fantastic energy at a live Spurs/Sonics game in Key Arena.
Tim Duncan is back and he is healthy. He is averaging 23 and 10 with more than a block per game so far this season. Brent Barry has come into his own in his third season with the Spurs. His numbers are not gaudy, but he is doing a little of everything, and doing it well, just as he did for Seattle with Gary Payton and later Ray Allen. He is averaging 20 minutes per game this season and shooting 54% over all, 58% from behind the arc and 91% from the charity stripe. He is so effective right now in so many areas that I had to pick him up for both my fantasy teams off the free agency lists. The bigger surprise for me right now is the play of Fabricio Oberto. He seems to be coming into his own this season, earning minutes and producing. Oberto is in both of the top two 5 man +/- lineups for the Spurs this season. They combine to make a powerful punch off the bench for the Spurs with other veterans like Robert Horry and Michael Finley. This is a team of true depth.
Parker, as always, is a major threat to the Sonics. He is often the deciding factor in the game. If he is allowed to penetrate or left open, he will punish the Sonics with his speed and his shooting. Luke needs to step up on Parker and use his team mates as much as possible. I expect Earl gets subbed in early if Parker starts running a layup drill.
There was a lot of leaking help in the Kings game on Friday which left perimeter shooters open for the three. (Why this was done against a smallish, weak, front line like the Kings is another question.) The Sonics cannot afford to leave any of San Antonio's perimeter players open for ANY reason. Parker, Ginobli, Barry, Finley, Bowen, Udrih and even Horry will shoot the open shot and likely nail it. Let Elson and Duncan work with man defense only. Wilcox, Petro, Collison and Glyiadakis MUST take their man on their own and simply try to make things hard for them. Both are very capable interior passers as well, so they will feed each other if help comes from the post. They will get every single rebound if they are not boxed out, and they WILL box the Sonics out if they don't grab position first. Elson has shown a nice hook shot and a solid jumper from midrange, he will need to be watched closely. He tends to be open quite a bit due to teams doubling down on Duncan.
The key to the Spurs is to make them work for their shots. They will wait for the good shot, so make sure that it is late in the clock and not as easy as they would like. Do not let the guards get in the paint and the coaching staff needs to be ready to adjust their pick and roll defense quickly should the Spurs find something they like. This has to be coupled with fierce rebounding. The rebounding we saw on Friday will spell a blow out against the Spurs. This is a team (like Utah) that executes flawlessly on almost every possession. Every mistake WILL be paid for.
Our Player of the Week for last week has to be a focus for tonight. The Spurs don't have a matchup for Rashard Lewis, and he is on fire right now. The Sonics cannot afford to have him go "quiet" in the second half again, regardless of whose fault it may be. Bowen will likely guard Allen and it will be important for Lewis to pick up the scoring. If he can punish the Spurs they will have to adjust and that should free up Allen.
Wilcox needs to make Duncan run. He needs to go after every rebound like he has a $100K bonus tied to each one. Petro must body up on Elson and make him work on defense, as well as fight for rebounding position. This will help on the other end of the floor, keeping Elson from being a scoring factor.
Earl and Damien need to step up their contributions on offense while keeping up their defensive activity. We need someone to hit the open shots when Ray and Lew are sitting.
Luuuuuuke. We need you tonight again, man. We don't ask for anything special...just another 17 and 8 game with no more than 2 turnovers. We know you can pull it off.
This is another game where I wish we had a shooting big man to draw the Spurs bigs off the block so that we could post up Lewis. Small ball or skill ball is not likely to be available too much tonight since the Spurs have the height and the skill to beat you.
The one thing that I am 100% certain of is that this will be another exciting matchup between these two teams, and I expect to have a blast. See you there.
Catch Kevin Pelton's preview before you head to the Key or turn on the TV and give David Locke's pregame show a listen, too. Be sure to bring clothes, toys or cash to donate to the Sonics & Storm Foundation's partnership with the Salvation Army.
If you didn't take Steve's advice earlier, then do it now. Here what they have to say about the Sonics in San Antonio.