The last time the San Antonio Spurs walked off the AT&T Center floor they were swallowing the bitter pill of a Game 5 loss to the eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. And while an intrasquad scrimmage in early October certainly doesn't mean enough to wash out the bad taste, it does give this group a fresh outlook; a chance to pick up the pieces and start where it left off.
Manu Ginobili scored 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting in only 18 minutes to lead the 'Silver' team to a 106-97 win over Tim Duncan and Tony Parker's 'Black' team in front of a crowd that waited in line several hours for the chance at open seating and their first glimpse of the 2012-13 Spurs. It's not the condensed, buttoned-down version you'll see against No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Hornets on Halloween night, but it was the beginning of the nearly month-long process of getting everybody back on the same page.
But the Spurs, unlike many teams around the NBA, have the luxury of extreme consistency. Every player from last year's group is back with the exception ofJames Anderson, and even the newest free agent Nando de Colo has spent a significant amount of time playing with Parker and Boris Diaw on the French National Team. So the familiarity is there, now it's time to regroup and find that symmetry once again.
Ginobili said the win on Wednesday didn't exactly stack up against the three titles he's helped bring to San Antonio, but being back out on the floor is a decent consolation.
"It was good to play in front of our fans. It was good to play after a long summer," Ginobili said, noting this was a longer scrimmage than they'll normally see in a practice setting. "At this point in the season we do a lot of drills. Drills about guarding the post, pick and rolls, shots; (in a) scrimmage we never get to play that long, so for us it's great."
With all the experience gained during last year's campaign and next to no roster turnover in the offseason, becoming cohesive as a team won't be as great a challenge as last season, especially with the opportunity of a full training camp. But, as Ginobili said, there will still be an adjustment period after spending the summer playing with fellow countrymen rather than fellow Spurs.
"Six of us played during the Olympics and we played with different rules, different teammates (and) in a different place. So it's not that you forget them but you need a little time to play again with them and get those looks," he said. "We know nobody's going to play 36 minutes in a game like this, but those 20, 22 minutes you do play, (you) run a few sprints to see how you're doing and then get back to Spurs mentality; get back to our plays and our defense and stuff like that, and we get to see the new guys."
And there are some notable "new guys" in camp this year. Perhaps the biggest (literally and figuratively) name comes in the form of former 2001 No. 4 overall draft pick Eddy Curry, a once highly touted prospect who's battled injury and weight issues throughout his 11-year career. The seven-foot, 295-pounder came into camp looking slim (by his standards), but will no doubt find it challenging to crack the roster. His four points on 1-for-5 shooting and zero rebounds in nearly 22 minutes on Wednesday night was less than desirable, but it's still early.
On the other hand, Josh Powell, an already somewhat proven commodity, made a solid impact in the scrimmage. The 6-foot-9 journeyman forward from N.C. State showed off his strength, energy and athleticism in his 23 minutes of action, and while the Spurs' frontcourt is crowded with players already familiar with the system, he provides a set of skills - one predicated on at least some semblance of athleticism - none of the five regular San Antonio bigs possess. Powell's 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals were much-needed off the bench, and his size and physicality gave the Spurs a glimpse of something they haven't been accustomed to in recent years.
As Manu said, everybody has a chance.
"There are 13 returning guys, so there aren't many that can surprise you. But, of course, having Josh Powell and Eddy Curry on the roster is a big thing," he said. "They're both great players, talented bigs that (aren't) easy to find in the league anymore. So, it's good to have them around and give them a chance."
Though it is comforting for San Antonio to know they'll have the gang back together for another run, the Spurs also realize they must perform their due diligence in assessing what they have in camp. This was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs last year and one of the most prolific offenses ever seen in the Alamo City, so even after a shocking four-game losing streak dropped the Silver and Black from the playoffs, there was no sense of panic. But there's always room for improvement, and during media day both Duncan and Gregg Popovich alluded to the fact they have a few ideas of how to combat the youth movement in the West.
Let's hope they're good ones, because last year the Spurs just weren't good enough.
- New Spur Nando de Colo struggled in the box score during his first scrimmage in a San Antonio uniform, notching just four points, three rebounds and three turnovers in 36 minutes. However, his two steals were a positive sign for a guy Pop said would spend much of the season learning and observing. It would be a mistake to jump to any negative conclusions just yet, but he certainly has a lot of work to do to acclimate to his new surroundings. But while his numbers didn't stick out, he didn't show any glaring weaknesses as he was able to maintain the flow of the system without many mistakes. You can tell he already has a decent understanding of what the Spurs want to do, and that can only help going forward.
- Um, Kawhi Leonard will be fun to watch this season, but we'll talk more about him later. He had 16 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes of play and showed off a new and improved pull-up jumper.
- DeJuan Blair played a whopping 42 minutes in this one, contributing 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He even hit a few mid-range jumpers and looked active in his slimmed-down body. Tiago Splitter sat out with back spasms, though it's nothing considered to be serious.