There's never truly a good time to play the San Antonio Spurs, last year's Western Conference champions and a team as deep on talent as any team in the league coached by the game's best. But if there was ever any time close enough to good, now would be it. The Spurs are without four key pieces to their rotation, and they have lost three of four games as they host the Chicago Bulls tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, where Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue will preview the matchup. Then stay with CSN after the game for Bulls Postgame Live, where we'll have analysis, highlights and reaction from Tom Thibodeau and the players.
Most teams in the NBA would be left for dead with four key players on the bench due to injury. The Spurs are currently without Tiago Splitter (shoulder), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Danny Green (hand), and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) re-aggravated an injury last night that cost him two games earlier in the month. Those four are 3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th in minutes per game; Ginobili is second on the team in assists (4.5), Splitter is second in rebounds (6.2) and Leonard, the team's best wing defender, leads the Spurs with 1.66 steals per game.
On Jan. 19, after a 110-82 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Spurs moved to 32-9, best in the Western Conference. But since then, they've lost three of their last four -- albeit against solid teams in Oklahoma City, Miami and Houston -- and now trail Kevin Durant and the Thunder (36-10) by 2.5 games.
Lucky for the Spurs, they've still got three major assets with which to work with: future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and head coach Gregg Popovich.
Parker has regressed from last year's numbers, but he's still just one of two players in the NBA averaging at least 18 points, six assists and shooting 50 percent from the field. The other is LeBron James, putting Parker in some serious company in terms of efficiency. He's been stellar in January, averaging 18.2 points on 53 percent shooting and 6.7 assists.
At this point it shouldn't surprise anyone that Duncan continues to put up such impressive numbers, but it still does. At age 37, in his 16th year in the NBA, Duncan is averaging 14.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 9.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. In that regard, he's just one of three players in the NBA putting up those numbers, joining Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.
Though the points per game (14.7) are his lowest since 2010-11 and his field goal percentage (48.1 percent) is his worst of his career, he's still an elite-level player who is showing no signs of slowing down. In 13 January games, he's averaging 15.8 points on 54 percent shooting, 10.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. His slow start behind him, Duncan is a player who can rally whoever else is around him, injuries or not.
Then there's Popovich. The four-time NBA champ has won 938 games in his 18-year career (all with the Spurs) and has proven himself every year to find and use talent deep on his roster, infamously benching his elder players to rest them for the postseason. Like Thibodaeu, he's been able to use what's available to him and, despite the recent losing streak, the Spurs are never out of it thanks to one of the best coaches in the game.
See if the Spurs veterans can eke out a win tonight against a Bulls team beginning a six-game West Coast road trip. Stay with CSN throughout the night for all your Bulls coverage, and stay up-to-date with social media trends on Bulls Pulse, using #BullsTalk to join the conversation.