Road swing long for Spurs

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

The team's best player is known as the Big Fundamental.

The team is devoid of glamour, save for the starting point guard's wife.

But all the San Antonio Spurs do is win and the team, which is in Toronto tonight, is poised for another extended stretch of success.

With its current nucleus of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio has won three of the past six NBA championships, with each title garnered in odd years.

Head coach Gregg Popovich always gives the Spurs a chance because he's that good at getting players to buy into a system that demands defence and selflessness.

By any definition, the Spurs are a marquee team, but they get no style points because the way they play is considered boring by many.

In Parker, the Spurs have a big-game point guard who gets into the lane and wants the ball in crunch time.

In Duncan, the Spurs have a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a throwback post presence who knows how to execute a drop step, a jump hook and how to use the glass on a jumper.

In Ginobili, the Spurs feature an underrated defender whose athleticism isn't truly appreciated, even as he begins to find his groove following off-season ankle surgery.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the team to beat in the West, the reigning conference champions whose presence in the NBA final will be welcomed by U.S. television executives.

The Spurs, in many ways, are the anti-Lakers, but they are nonetheless the biggest threats to L.A. in the West.

The Spurs have won 10 of their past 12 games, including a statement game in Boston on Sunday when two former Raptors, forward Matt Bonner and guard Roger Mason Jr., came of age.

Coincidence or not, the Spurs have used their annual February trip to gel and excel.

For the past six years, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo has forced the Spurs to get out of town. It's simply known as the rodeo trip.

This year's odyssey involves 17,000 km of air travel, and ranges from Oakland to New York.

"We try to use the rodeo trip as a silver lining, to try to come together and realize it's tougher on the road," Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News.

"You get a little bit of a bunker mentality, a little edge. It's a good test and a good measure of where we are and what has to be done by the time playoffs come."

The Spurs have gone 35-13 in their six previous forays away from home.

The team is 3-1 on its current trip.

Barring an injury to one of its big three, San Antonio again will be a title contender.

The team's stature is sure to be improved if rumours surrounding the Spurs come to fruition.

It's no secret the Spurs want to add a big man who can extend defences. The Lakers can score, but they are vulnerable on defence and in particular in pick and rolls.

Sacramento's Brad Miller has been linked with the Spurs, as has Detroit's Rasheed Wallace.

Vince Carter, who was back in New Jersey's lineup last night following an elbow injury, has even been rumoured as potentially being San Antonio-bound.

Whether it's Miller, Wallace, V.C. or someone else whose name hasn't been leaked to the media or linked with San Antonio, the Spurs are looking to get better in order to close the gap with the Lakers.

Jason Terry's broken hand will be felt in Dallas.

The New Orleans Hornets aren't as good as last year.

The Denver Nuggets don't have the depth to go deep into the playoffs.

The Portland Trail Blazers are good, but their youth and inexperience won't translate into post-season success.

The Houston Rockets have no chemistry, while the Phoenix Suns are expected to get blown up. The Utah Jazz simply is too banged up.

That leaves the Lakers and the Spurs.

When the Lakers visited the ACC last week, there was a palpable buzz in the air.

The atmosphere will be different tonight, but the Spurs are just as good as the Lakers.


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