[Thanks to chalkwhite for today's preview. I'm bracing for a letdown in this one in terms of it being a titanic clash, given that it's also a day before vacation. Though I actually worry more that it'll be the Spurs that won't bring their top game, which would be fine. Game is at 7 on TNT, and go check out PtR for their brand of hijinks. -ed.]
So here we are, last game before the All-Star break, 2.5 games back of the lead in the East. If we're using the All-Star break as a chance for reflection, I'd say that there's a lot to be happy about: An MVP candidate, a Coach of the Year candidate, and most importantly, great results without great health.
In terms of this game, I'm with Rose: Tonight is absolutely a measuring stick. The Spurs are one of the weirdest teams in recent memory. They're are without a doubt the best team in the league at this point, and yet are getting almost no play as title contenders, probably because most media members don't want to give up on the common conception that the Lakers-Heat-Celtics triumvirate are the only legitimate threats.
Of course, the way the Spurs are winning is weird as well. Duncan is only playing 28 minutes a night, and averaging 13 and 9. Tony Parker is their minutes leader, but he's only averaging 32 (you can almost hear Luol Deng's envy.) They've had no injuries of consequence, and while there was a lot of noise made at the beginning of the year about how fast they were playing, they've fallen back towards the middle of the pack. It's still faster than they used to play, but they aren't the Golden State Warriors (probably a good thing, since we all know how that turned out).
Derrick Rose vs. Tony "I really fucked up that Eva Longoria thing, didn't I" Parker: At this point, you know what you're getting with Parker- 20 points and 6 assists a night, lots of forays to the hoop (he's a devout practitioner of the Hinrich Maneuver, running underneath the basket with the ball without actually doing anything with it), and a middling defender. He's shooting much better this year than his career average, so we know he'll make Rose work on D. Still, Rose is bigger and stronger, plus, you know, the MVP of the league so far. Advantage: Rose
Keith Bogans vs. Manu Ginobili: As always, this will actually come down to whether the bench 2s, specifically Brewer, can shut down Manu. He's been getting a lot of play as the face of the Spurs, since we're all familiar with him, but he's not having that great a season, shooting only 43% and averaging 18 points a game. Of anybody on the team, he's probably most likely to have a season-derailing injury. Maybe Bogans can sweep the leg. Advantage: Ginobili.
Luol Deng vs. Richard Jefferson: Jefferson's another interesting case, because he's reinvented himself from his time with Carter and Kidd in Jersey, and is now mainly a spot-up 3 point shooter and designated defender. He's the Spurs 4th option in their starting lineup, while Deng is our 3rd. Deng's a better defender and can hurt you in more ways on offense: I really hope to see him be aggressive tonight getting to the hoop. Advantage: Deng
Carlos Boozer vs. Dejuan Blair: Ah, Blair, the man I love. As my father can attest, I BADLY wanted to Bulls to draft him, and still wish they had (what do you think the Spurs would say to our offer of JJ straight up for Blair?) C'est la vie. He's still not nearly as good as Boozer, and I hope Booz will go right at him to get him in some quick foul trouble. Advantage: Boozer
Kurt Thomas vs. Tim Duncan: What more can be said about Tim Duncan? He's the superstar I most hope Rose learns from: be loyal, be patient, understand when you need to take over and when you need to facilitate, understand which games matter and which games don't. They seem to have similar personalities, too: more comfortable leading by example than vocally, out-working people, not saying things that get them into trouble. As much as we all love Big Sexy, the answer here is obvious. Advantage: Duncan
Honestly? I don't think we win this game. The Spurs are an excellent, excellent team with the best road record in the NBA. I hope I'm wrong, but I think we keep it close early but lose it in the beginning of the fourth.
Go talk shit about Tony Parker's love life at 48 Minutes of Hell.