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А really tough stretch

Фото: usatoday.com/Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a very interesting season so far. We’ve had all kinds of injury troubles, of course, and it was fascinating to see coach Popovich make adjustments and work the lineups. One time we were without a point guard and a small forward. Then we had to play without our power forward and center. Finally, for a while we were without a point guard, a forward and a center. The situation required a lot of attention to our balance, keeping the team on track regardless of all the issues was a real challenge for coach Pop.

Patty Mills was out for the first three months of the season, and he’s a very important rotation player for us because of his stellar three-point shooting, his aggressive defense, and overall enthusiasm which is really contagious and quickly spreads all over the locker room.

We were without Tiago Splitter for like a couple of months, he got hurt during the second or third practice session of the training camp. And he’s one of the pillars of our defense,he’s great at providing help and rebounding. Also, Tiago can play alongside Tim Duncan which gives us an option to go really big and field some imposing lineups with the powerful and versatile duo under the basket.

We missed Kawhi Leonard for two separate stints. He’s not just the reigning Finals MVP. As coach Popovich recently noted, Kawhi can affect games in numerous ways without scoring. First and foremost, he can guard the opposition’s best player, whether he’s point guard, shooting guard, small forward or even power forward. Kawhi gives us steals, his hands and arms are incredibly long and strong. It reduces the number of the opponents’ possessions, and also gives us 3-4 breakaway opportunities per game that we tend to convert into easy baskets. He rebounds really well, both offensively and defensively.On offense he can post people up, shoot threes and get the ball to the right spot. And every day he’s doing everything humanly possible to polish his game and bring it to the next level.

Needless to say, we’ve missed Tony Parker, with his creativity and ability to push the ball forward and control the tempo.

On the bright side, the injuries gave some of our rotation players more minutes and opportunities to shine. I think Cory Joseph, for one, surprised a lot of fans and opponents with his strong play. He’s shooting the ball well, he’s defending at his usual high level, he’s going to the basket and he’s almost scoring in double digits. He was asked to fill the primary point guard role after the injuries to Parker and Mills, and the confidence he gained will surely come handy in the second part of the season.

Also, Aron Baynes has been a steady source of toughness for us, providing bursts of energy, getting rebounds and displaying a nice touch around the basket. And Kyle Anderson, our first round pick from UCLA, has had his moments and has showed some intriguing qualities and skills.

Given all the mishaps, you could look at the standings and say we’re doing ok. Still, we currently find ourselves in a position where we can’t really relax and take a high play-off berth for granted. This past week we’ve had a number of encouraging performances, though. The victory against Portland in particular could prove really important. It showed that when we have all the guys in the lineup, we can again reach the level of play the team showed last year.

After that game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts (whom I know since 2009 when he visited CSKA with Dwayne Casey and who currently has a former CSKA great David Vanterpool on his staff) said that the Spurs played just like the team that won championship last year. Nice compliment, sure, but also an indication that we’re on the right track.

Following the Portland game we had another solid outing, especially at the defensive end. It came against Utah, the team coached by another good friend Quin Snyder who was an assistant at CSKA two years ago.

We have two tough road games and already won one in Denver.Now we’re heading to Chicago to play one of the best teams of the Eastern Conference. After that, we’ll close the week with two home games versus the Lakers and the Bucks.

We’re focusing on ourselves though, trying to improve our defense and ball movement, get better balance of inside and outside shots on offense. We’re taking it one game at a time, and hopefully this approach will help us get a high seed in the crowded West. By the way, a reporter asked our players recently about whether we’re aiming at a specific play-off spot and a specific opponent in the first round. The answer, of course, was that we’re not aiming at anything, just trying to improve every day and get to a point where we’re really confident that we can play against anybody.

I think it’s very important that coach Pop and our management have been able to retain confidence during a really tough stretch when things could have gone really sour. Now it’s time to show what we can do and get some W’s. Especially on the road.

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