Spurs on a mission

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:58 PM ET

One would be hard-pressed to find an NBA observer that predicted the San Antonio Spurs would top the NBA’s standings, but there the constantly underrated team finds itself to start the New Year.

Though Tim Duncan’s stats have declined, his supporting cast — led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — has more than made up for it.

The team decided to retain, rather than let Parker go to the Knicks, and the decision has paid off as his shooting has improved and he is racking up more assists than usual as well.

Ginobili has been all-star calibre, the best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich (West coach of the month) continues to do his thing and the bench has been great.

Duncan, the man who many consider the greatest power forward to ever play the game has retained his defensive ferocity and anchors perhaps the most technically sound team in the league.

The biggest change in San Antonio is the fact that the Spurs are the fourth-highest scoring team after years of being a defensive squad that did only what was necessary on offence. The defence is still ranked 10th, while the team’s rebounding average is seventh overall. Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Richard Jefferson — in the midst of a resurgent campaign — have not missed a game, a key reason for the club’s success.

Though Gary Neal and George Hill have sparkled off of the bench, the Spurs will get another bench boost when promising rookie James Anderson returns to the lineup later this month.

One of these years, the Spurs, 13-2 in December, are going to be too old to compete.

This is definitely not that year.

TURNING UP THE HEAT

Meanwhile, in the East, Miami is overwhelming all comers.

Only two teams surrender fewer points against (92.3 per game) and nobody can guard the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Wade and James were arguably the NBA’s top two performers in December, finally finding a groove after a shaky start.

A five-game winning streak has prevented Orlando from gaining ground in the Southeast during a five-game run of its own. It’s hard to see the Magic catching the Heat at this point, not with the way the team is playing.

For the first time in his life, James is not leading his team in scoring. Wade remains the top dog in South Beach and James is fine with being the best second fiddle in NBA history.

Look out league, the Heat is on.

AROUND THE RIM

Magic forward Brandon Bass — a top performer since the club re-did its roster, says he might need to undergo surgery on his knee.

Bass said he might have to miss a few weeks because the knee has been sore since he heard a pop during a game against New York on Thursday night ... The league has rescinded a technical foul called against Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, lowering his season total to nine. Only Dwight Howard has more technicals this season. Players are suspended after picking up their 16th technical and for a game for every two after that ... Minnesota forward Anthony Tolliver is close to a return to action after missing a month because of a knee injury ... According to the News Herald, struggling Cleveland has made a pitch for mercurial Washington big man Andray Blatche. Cleveland is desperate to add talent after losing James in the off-season ... Strange Lakers stat from ESPN: The squad’s first seven losses of the year were by a combined 36 points. The last four have been by a total of 69 points. Los Angeles has been outscored by 50 points in its past four home games.

Big Trouble in Big D

Luckily for the Dallas Mavericks they are one of the NBA’s deepest teams.

They need to be, after enduring a run of bad luck.

Dallas is 1-3 minus superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki — day-to-day with a sprained right knee — and now starting small forward Caron Butler might miss the rest of the campaign because of a knee injury. He is out a minimum of two months and medical tests will determine if it is worse than that.

Butler was third on the team with a 15.0 scoring average and is a free agent after the season.

The Mavs, unlike most teams, have a former star ready to step in though in Shawn Marion.

Young Rodrigue Beaubois is also expected to finally make his season debut soon and will provide the scoring punch Dallas is currently missing.

The team has also recalled Dominique Jones, a gifted scorer in college, from the D-League.

The Mavs can overcome the loss of Butler, but need the irreplaceable Nowitzki back pronto.

Zen Master zings his underachieving Lakers

Is it time to worry yet about the Los Angeles Lakers?

The team was booed by its home fans on Sunday after getting thrashed by the Memphis Grizzlies.

The back-to-back champs have looked bad at times, downright awful at others for about a month now.

Kobe Bryant is fed up and head coach Phil Jackson took out his rotation players with almost five minutes left against Memphis.

“We get behind early in the third quarter on some stupid plays — poor passing, poor transition defence — and then Kobe has to screw up the game and start energizing the team by going one-on-one and that takes the rest of the guys out as a consequence,” Jackson told reporters.

Zing! Only the Zen Master can get away with that. Jackson also said he wasn’t impressed with Pau Gasol’s performance.

Bryant told the Orange County Register the team isn’t taking the regular season seriously enough. “We’re looking too far down the road,” Bryant said.

“Instead of looking just at the game that’s right in front. You start skipping steps if you look too far down the line.”

King’s ransom

The Sacramento Kings have won two of four games – grounds for celebration considering the team was 5-22 before the stretch.

As a result of that terrible start though, several Kings reportedly are on the trade block, starting with Carl Landry and Omri Casspi, according to ESPN.

Landry was excellent in Houston before being the main cog of the Kevin Martin deal. In Sacramento, Landry’s play has tailed off considerably as he has struggled to define his role in coach Paul Westphal’s ever-changing frontcourt rotation.

Landry will be a free agent this season and nobody believes he will be back, so look for the Kings to move him before February’s trade deadline to save some face, since Martin has been outstanding in Houston.

Dealing Casspi would be an odd move, he was solid as a rookie last season and has been even better this year. He’s on a cheap, rookie-scale contract and is a fan favourite.

Unless the Kings can dump an awful contract or get a standout in return, odds are Casspi goes nowhere.

Courting Carmelo no easy task for MJ

Apparently the Charlotte Bobcats gave acquiring Carmelo Anthony their best shot, but he wasn’t interested.

No surprise really, since the Bobcats have been horrific almost since Day 1 (despite finally making the playoffs last season) and recently fired head coach Larry Brown.

According to Yahoo! Sports, owner Michael Jordan thought he would test the waters, since his company pays Anthony almost $6 million U.S. a season through a shoe deal and the two have a good relationship.

But Anthony wants to play for a contender, on a loaded team, like his buddies in Miami, and politely turned Jordan down.

The New Jersey Nets continue to be the frontrunners for Anthony, who would prefer to go to New York, but despite doggedly pursuing the all-star, the Nets have been unable to get the Nets to sign off on a deal.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats’ current all-star small forward, Gerald Wallace, just returned from a five-game absence but has tweaked the sore ankle he first hurt against the Raptors in Charlotte. Wallace might play through the pain, but the Bobcats simply cannot win if he isn’t in top form.

Power rankings (Not including Monday’s games)

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1. San Antonio Spurs (29-4) On top after toppling Mavs.

2. Miami Heat (26-9) LeBron and Wade were top 2 players in league in Dec.

3. Boston Celtics (25-7) Rondo’s back but now KG’s out.

4. Orlando Magic (21-12) Look outstanding following roster overhaul.

5. Chicago Bulls (22-10) Have impressively overcome loss of Noah.

6. Dallas Mavericks (25-8) Injuries have brought them down to earth.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-12) A piece away from contending.

8. L.A. Lakers (23-11) Not playing hard, or smart enough.

9. Utah Jazz (23-11) No lead is safe against these never-quit Jazz.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (18-16) Becoming a powerhouse at home again.

11. Denver Nuggets (19-13) 3-0 week after 0-3 week a good sign.

12. Atlanta Hawks (22-14) Solid, but not as good as the top teams.

13. New Orleans Hornets (20-14) Up-and-down season continues.

14. New York Knicks (19-14) Muddling along after great stretch.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (15-19) Two games vs. Lakers, two wins.

16. Houston Rockets (16-17) Can score but need to improve on defence.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (13-18) Hanging around without Brandon Jennings.

18. Philadelphia 76ers (13-20) Iguodala’s injury could mean free-fall.

19. L.A. Clippers (10-24) Amazingly, extremely fun to watch.

20. Indiana Pacers (14-18) Stumbling after a decent start.

21. Phoenix Suns (14-18) Vince Carter has not brought that winning feeling.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (11-20) Nice start under Silas-Oakley regime.

23. Golden State Warriors (13-20) They sure can score but defending is another matter.

24. Detroit Pistons (11-22) Want to make trades but no takers.

25. Toronto Raptors (11-22) Showing admirable fight, but too many injuries.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-25) Hard not to feel bad for fans in Minnesota.

27. New Jersey Nets (9-25) Getting blown out on the regular.

28. Sacramento Kings (7-24) Might not get higher than this all season.

29. Washington Wizards (8-24) Need John Wall healthy, even if that means sitting him for weeks.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-26) People scoffed when this corner said they’d be in the basement.

— Ryan Wolstat

Games of the week

Wednesday San Antonio at Boston

Rajon Rondo is back, Spurs will provide big test.

Thursday Oklahoma City at Dallas

Thunder is coming on while Mavs are battling injuries.

Sunday Miami at Portland

Blazers playing great at home, but Heat is ... on fire.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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