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San Antonio Spurs arrive for annual teaching lesson


They are the model. Stable, smart, successful. The San Antonio Spurs are the darling of professional sports managers, proving year in, year out, how it's done. This year is no exception.

Before the Pistons (!) beat them, and beat them badly Friday night, the Spurs had reeled off 11 straight wins. On arrival Saturday, they were 27 games over .500 with the best record in the league. That's despite the loss of Tim Duncan, who's played only two of the last nine with a knee sprain, and Manu Ginobili, who's been hurt for seven of the last 11 games. Of course, it's the system, often imitated, but never duplicated.

This time it's Tony Parker, our choice for the most underrated player of the last decade, who's filling in the gaps, with some help from the motley crew Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have put together. Parker, a legitimate MVP candidate, is averaging 20.6 points and 7.6 assists, shooting 53.4 percent overall and 39 percent from deep, and simply dominating. While Duncan is 36 and Ginobili 35, Parker is still only 30.

What amazes is the rest of the crew. The Spurs haven't have a draft pick of their own higher than #20 in more than a decade, but they find gems (as they did with Ginobili at #57 and Parker at #29). Of the 15 players on the roster, an NBA record nine have passports from other countries, and two of the Americans have played overseas. The roster includes two players their previous teams couldn't wait to get rid of, Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. Everyone contributes because everyone believes in the team, Tim, Tony, Manu and Pop.

The game itself will come at the end of an extraordinary day of NBA hoops in the city. As Howard Beck writes...

Starting at 1 p.m., four of the N.B.A.’s top teams will play two games, over 10 hours, in two boroughs, about six miles apart. The Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers will play first, at the Garden. A few hours later, the Nets and San Antonio Spurs will tip off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Mike Tirico will call both games, the first on ABC, the second on ESPN. He promises to get from one to the other by taking the 2 train from 34th Street to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center. Brett Yormark will be so proud. For one of the Spurs, Danny Green, the game will be a homecoming. The Long Island native likes what the Nets are doing for Brooklyn.

"It’s close to home, so a lot of family’s going to be there," Green said. "I’ve heard it’s a really nice arena. Obviously, those areas are a lot different from when I was growing up. It seems like they’re making a lot of changes over that way. I think it’s exciting."

For the Nets, it will be an opportunity to 1) forget the Wizards game and 2) get revenge for the 31-point blowout the Spurs dealt back on New Year's Eve. Best not to dwell on either. Expect P.J. Carlesimo to revamp his rotation. The former Spurs assistant, who won three rings with the Spurs, promised that the other night. Will he give the Nets international player minutes?

One advantage for the Nets is their size. As ESPN Stats notes, "The Spurs are averaging a league-low 8.0 offensive rebounds this season. The Spurs grab just 20.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, which ranks last in the NBA. As a result of their issues on the offensive glass, the Spurs have averaged just 10.1 second-chance points this season, which ranks 29th in the NBA."