As the Bulls return from their long road trip to face the Spurs on Monday, there's some good news and some bad news. First, the good news: There's a pretty good chance that both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will sit out with injuries. Duncan is battling a sprained left knee and right ankle, while Ginobili is dealing with a bad hammy.
Now for the bad news: The Spurs are really freaking good, regardless of who is in the lineup. First, a stat from Bulls stat bro Jeff Mangurten:
The Spurs are 7-2 this season without Tim Duncan and 9-3 without Manu Ginobili (4-2 without both). #SASvsCHI— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) February 11, 2013
Next, we look at what the Spurs did yesterday to the Nets without both Duncan and Ginobili. San Antonio did the damn thing, outscoring Brooklyn 60-29 in the second half en route to a 111-86 victory. I know the Nets really aren't all that good, as witnessed by their ugly win over half a Bulls roster a couple of weeks ago. But they aren't terrible, and the Spurs just embarrassed them while playing without two top players.
The biggest reason the Spurs have been so great this year (a league-best 40-12) even while dealing with some of these injuries is because Tony Parker is having the best season of his career. In terms of the MVP race, one could argue that Parker is fourth behind the obvious choices of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. Parker is averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 assists while shooting a stellar 53.5 percent from the field. And although he doesn't take many three-pointers (just over one a game), he's making a career-high 40.0 percent of them.
Parker's awesomeness is why the Spurs are ranked toward the top of the league in a bunch of offensive categories. They're fourth in offensive efficiency, fourth in scoring, tied for fourth in three-point shooting and first in assists. They also like to play fast, ranking seventh in the league in pace.
Stopping Parker will certainly take a team effort, and the fact that Kirk Hinrich is still out and Joakim Noah is hobbled (game-time decision) doesn't help matters. So the Bulls will have to collectively try and stop Parker without also giving up open looks to the bevy of Spurs' shooters, namely Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. The Bulls of course have consistently been of the league's best teams at stopping the three under Tom Thibodeau because he stresses staying home on shooters rather than aggressively collapsing down into the paint to help.
The Spurs aren't just an offensive juggernaut though, as they are also one of the league's best defensive teams. They are in fact better than the Bulls in terms of defensive efficiency and three-point defense, and also rank third in the league in defensive rebound rate. Not having Duncan around tonight will certainly take away some of that advantage on the boards, but watch out for Tiago Splitter, who has been playing really well all season long.
Besides the play on the court, it will be interesting to watch the matchup on the sidelines between Thibs and Gregg Popovich. The last two Coach of the Year winners will likely both be toward the top of the list again this season, as both guys have done marvelous jobs with their squads despite injuries to their best players. We know there's a fundamental difference between the way these men go about their business in terms of rest/injuries, but both are no-nonsense guys who usually get the most out of the talent they have.
This game will certainly be a toughie, and hopefully the Bulls will come out with a lot of energy considering they're back at home for the first time in awhile and have had a few days off. The Bulls have mostly struggled against the West elite this year, but I expect this game to be close and hopefully they can pull out a win.