Before Saturday night’s game, Mark Jackson composed a sonnet to the San Antonio Spurs, who happened to be the night’s opponent. And last May’s playoff opponent. And perhaps this May’s playoff opponent.
You know the Spurs? The team that regularly humbles the Warriors?
They did it again on Saturday, for the 51st time in 59 games. But at least the Spurs are nice enough to dole out little pencil marks on the wall while administering a thumping.
The Spurs are the Warriors’ benchmark. How far have the Warriors come? How far do they still have to go?
“When you play against them you think, ‘Wow, these guys are legit,’ ” Jackson said. “They know how to win, how to compete, how to play unselfishly.
“It’s like you take five high school All-Americans, and you drop them off at the YMCA. The old dudes are going to cook them.”
That’s what happened Saturday. The old dudes – well, Tony Parker in particular – cooked the Warriors in the first quarter, opening up a 15-point lead. And though the Warriors battled back and took a brief lead early in the second half, the Spurs – rallying behind their young players in the fourth quarter – won easily 99-90.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili had the night off, both having played extended minutes the night before in Sacramento. Gregg Popovich doesn’t care if he irritates the Bay Area chapter of the Duncan & Ginobili Fan Club: in two visits to Oakland this season, his stars didn’t play a minute. He doesn’t care that, by regularly resting his best players, he could risk the top seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
“I won’t overplay guys or do anything to try to keep that position,” Popovich said. “As evidenced by tonight.”
Popovich does what’s best for his team and doesn’t worry about anyone else. While Jackson was penning his love letter to San Antonio on one side of the arena, Popovich shrugged off any questions about the Warriors or other teams.
Whatever Popovich does works out pretty well. The Spurs have the best record in theNBA. They came into Oracle with the longest active win streak in the NBA at 12 and left with their lucky 13th in a row.
“We fall in love with other teams during the course of the year, yet here we go again, with them sitting on top of the charts,” Jackson said.
The Spurs have stars. But they have never revolved around one superstar like the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs are a role model to others, proving that NBA teams can succeed without a LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
“If we’re committed as a team, tied together to defend at a high level, share the basketball, could care less who gets the recognition, then we can accomplish it,” Jackson said. The Spurs “make it more believable.”
That’s probably not going to make it onto a Warriors-issued T-shirt: “We Believe (because the San Antonio Spurs prove that we should).”
But the Warriors’ maturity and improvement this year very much has to do with the lessons they learned a year ago. Particularly the part when – despite a stretch of regular-season futility against San Antonio that has lasted forever and a half – they pushed the Spurs to six games in the playoffs.
The experience made the Warriors this season’s trendy darling and vaulted Stephen Curry into stardom, and the young players internalized the lessons learned. Add the experience of Andre Iguodala (who sat out Saturday’s game), experienced backups Steve Blake and Jermaine O’Neal, and a healthier Andrew Bogut to the mix, and the Warriors are a better team than they were a year ago.
A team more prepared to do damage in the playoffs.
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
Pitching has long been the backbone of nearly every championship baseball team. A quality cadre of starters and a reliable bullpen can mask quite a few weaknesses. Now that the A’s are faced with the prospect of being without projected Opening Day starter Jarrod Parker all year, without A.J. Griffin for at least a few weeks, the road to a third consecutive American League West title got a lot bumpier.
Fortunately for Oakland, they’ve got a world-class pitching coach Curt Young, who, should the A’s do what so many were predicting they’d do — win the West again — before the Parker-Griffin word got out, will be the team’s true MVP.
Scott Kazmir was brought in to replace Bartolo Colon, essentially. And maybe he’ll still be able to do that to a degree. But a mid-spring scratch related to anything arm-related is never a good omen. Kazmir did return to spring action Saturday, but his health is an issue that needs monitoring the rest of the season.
When dealing with the A’s, it’s always best to assume the worst.
That’s pretty much what general manager Billy Beane and his accomplished brain trust started doing several years ago when they began placing an obvious emphasis on depth and versatility. Prior to that, they were, for one reason or another — and one was certainly financial in that they had to roll the dice on injury risks they could acquire on the cheap — a team frequently devastated by a key injury or three.
So Beane seemed to essentially assume the worst: “We’re the A’s, we get hurt a lot, so we’d better be well-insured.”
And look what that approach has done for them. The past two seasons, the A’s suffered plenty of injuries that would have devastated less realistic and self-aware clubs. But these A’s didn’t take a dive. They thrived. Cashed in some insurance policies, so to speak. Their depth and versatility allowed them to roll right along and to the division crown.
This is a little different. It’s not nearly as easy for teams to acquire, cultivate and retain depth and versatility on the mound — especially in the rotation — as it is among young, hungry position players. A lot of those kinds of position players can be found on the waiver wire or in the lower tiers of free agency, or in the farm system.
Not so with decent starting pitchers, so with one news release sent out Monday regarding Parker’s surgery and Kazmir’s scratch, combined with Griffin’s issues, the AL West power structure appeared to change dramatically.
“Appeared” is the key word, though. Look around the division. The Los Angeles Angels have two very good starters atop the rotation, a pretty good No. 3 and two guys named, huh?
The Seattle Mariners? Can Robby Cano pitch? If he can’t, they’re in trouble no matter how well he hits. There just isn’t a lot of pitching there that screams championship. And Texas? History is history, and in Texas, there’s very little history of pitching carrying that team through the dog days and beyond.
Care for some real history? Look up what Young has done throughout his career. Yes, he’s had some truly gifted young starters with whom to work: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and those of a more recent vintage. But he’s also made damn fine use of lesser lights with far less talent than the aforementioned former stars, and that’s been a big part of why the A’s are always competitive.
He’s also had to deal with the loss of those aforementioned stars. Regularly. But give him a new batch of arms and poof! He’s turned them into a cohesive, productive crew.
–Mychael Urban, San Francisco Examiner
For the first time in his baseball career, Barry Bonds is exposed, unprotected by the superior eyesight, massive power and miracle reflexes that simultaneously distanced him from his mortal peers and insulated him from the repercussions of an unceremonious personality.
Now that he is nearly 50 years old, those gifts that made Bonds the towering athlete of his time are long gone, dissolved by age into history, unimportant compared with skills he has always been far less able or willing to master. Relationship-building, listening, communicating and being a member of a group instead of above it were qualities Bonds never felt he needed, once saying that when his playing skills faded, he would too, happily ridding himself of baseball without looking back. Babe Ruth retired and never returned to the Yankees in any capacity. Jackie Robinson retired and never again worked on the field. Neither made the choice himself. The game closed its doors to them.
But Bonds reappeared this spring, invited by the Giants to spend seven days as a spring training instructor. The job has been held by Randy Winn and J.T. Snow and countless other former Giants, but because it was Bonds, it was news, the first sign of thaw between the game and arguably its greatest living player. The frosty nature of his departure and his lack of a proper retirement hovered like both hangover and Excedrin.
He had been gone six complicated years, a time that was more exile than exit. He was convicted of obstruction in the BALCO case and saw other tainted stars readmitted to the game while he paid for his legendary unfriendliness. He took up cycling to satisfy his obsession with exercise.
Bonds admits he doesn’t do people well (“I probably like training,” he told me, “better than I do talking to people”). Throughout his spring training news conference, he referred to Giants manager Bruce Bochy not by the nickname “Boch” or by “Bruce,” but by the awkward “Bochy.”
Most ex-players say they miss the camaraderie after retirement. Bonds, never one of the guys, did not. “I was as close a friend as anyone in the game, and I know this: Players that great can’t help it,” his old Pirates compatriot Bobby Bonilla says. “They put up this wall. To them, showing anything looks like weakness. They can’t ever put that wall down, but that man loves this game.”
And he is still Barry Bonds, commanding attention, reflection and perspective, iconic by presence, reputation and deed, the only man since Ruth to hold the single-season and career home run records concurrently. He is the defining figure of greatness and the symbol of all that went wrong during a dishonest era of drugs and money. Current Giants players, many of whom became champions without him, revered Bonds, for his feats fueled their childhood imagination.
They loved his return, and so did his public, his city. He belonged.
–Howard Bryant, ESPN The Magazine