The Spurs just finished their West Coast roadtrip with two games in Los Angeles. I decided that this visit by the Spurs made this weekend the perfect time to fly my brother Mark, uber-ski instructor in Telluride, Colorado, down to sunny L.A. to see his first Spurs game. A November game was perfect because Telluride has not opened yet, and neither the Spurs or the Lakers are likely to be playing any more games after the ski resort closes in April. The Spurs finish the regular season April 9, at which point Spurs fans (and fans of other NBA teams not in the playoffs) will be waiting for the draft lottery to see if their ping pong ball speaks French.
With the rest of the family wanting some Uncle Mark time too, we decided not to go to both the Clippers game and the Lakers game — which made the choice easy: Lakers game Sunday night. I would not embarrass Mark by bringing him to a game with the city’s second team instead of the once-great Lakers. I have written before about how the Spurs/Lakers dynasty is a thing of the past, killed first by the Lakers’ ineptitude during the Spurs greatness in the mid-2010s, and then crushed again when the Spurs faded before the Lakers’ one-and-done bubble run. But a Lakers-Spurs game still had greater allure than any game involving the Clippers.
The weekend began watching our “second team”, the Golden State Warriors, on television beating the woeful Knicks on Friday night. We decided that the Steph Curry kid on the Warriors might turn out to be pretty good. And because there were so many other games played Friday night, Saturday morning became a flashback to our youth, poring over the box-scores for cool nuggets (pun not intended). And there were some.
For instance, some very good shooters had some very bad shooting games. In that Warriors game, Jordan Poole shot an abysmal 5 for 17 from the floor, though the Warriors still won. In OKC, Ja Morant shot an even worse 5 for 20 from the floor, though the Grizzlies still won. Similarly, Buddy Hield went 3 for 15 in a Pacers win and Bones Hyland went 5 for 16 in a Nuugets win. Not all bad performances led to wins. Zack LaVine went 1 for 14 in a one-point loss by the Bulls, and then was upset afterwards because he didn’t get to play down the stretch. He apparently wanted to go 1 for 20. The marvelous Giannis Antetokounmpo missed 11 free throws (4/15) in a loss to the 76ers, and then got into an altercation with the 76er clean-up crew when they wouldn’t let him shoot more bricks after the game. They were probably worried that he would damage the rim.
Not everything in the Friday night box-scores was negative. The Cavs guards both had strong games — Darius Garland had 41 points and Donovan Mitchell 34. Shades of West/Goodrich, Parker/Ginobili and Curry/Thompson The Cavs guards must have had a “no defense” deal with the Hornets guards: Kelly Oubre Jr. went for 34, Terry Rozier had 26. Lauri Markkanen of the Jazz surely had the best game ever for a player named Lauri (non-WNBA edition). He went 15 for 18 from the floor (2/3 from three) to score 38 in a one-point win over the Suns. Perhaps the Jazz are one less team for the Spurs to worry about when the draft lottery comes around? In Chicago, ex-Spur DeMar DeRozan could not overcome Lavine’s brick-laying but DeMar sure tried with 41 points. He even made a three-pointer! Another ex-Spur also had a great game, but this time in a win. Derrick White scored 26 points on only 12 shots (going 6 for 8 from three helped) as the Celtics won again to improve to a league best 13 – 3.
Later that morning, we took the short drive to Venice Beach for a long roller-blade from the Venice Pier to the Santa Monica Pier, and beyond. The temperature was 50 degrees warmer than Mark’s Colorado home, with a tremendous view of the Pacific Ocean, surfers, bike-riders and yoga instructors, with tourists from across the country enjoying the sunny Southern California day. We just needed some Beach Boys music playing in the background
That journey through the box-scores and on the Venice Beach boardwalk served as the precursor to the Spurs Saturday match-up with another ex-Spur, some guy named Lenny. Some may recall my sympathetic piece about Kawhi Leonard’s decision to leave San Antonio. No one reading this remembers my piece fondly. In any event, my co-writers here have already written up the Clippers victory over the Spurs, so I don’t need to. I can only add that watching it on television in L.A. wasn’t any more fun than watching it on television from San Antonio.
Sunday morning was my normal game at Palisades High. Mark was able to meet all the guys I have spent so much time and sweat with. He was also able to see my son Pablo play for the first time since he was in high school. In what may be a coincidence, Pablo also passed me the ball for the first time since he was in high school. (Just kidding. Pablo didn’t actually pass me the ball.)
Sunday evening, we ventured downtown to what used to be called Staples Center for the game. As we were walking into a bar before the game for some last-minute refreshments, a patron greeted Mark (who was wearing the long-sleeved black Spurs coaching shirt) with a “Hey, Popovich”. Mark commented that as we get older, everyone with a beard looks a bit like Popovich. Except Pop himself, who decided not to attend the game, claiming some sort of illness. We only discovered that Pop had bailed just before tip-off, when the Spurs bench featured only coaches not named Gregg Popovich.
We were also distressed to see the Spurs Most Indispensable Player Jakob Poeltl in street clothes. Me-thinks that the Spurs have elected to rotate giving one of their three best players (Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassel and Poeltl) the night off. Keldon must have gotten confused, because he played like he believed it was his turn to take the night off. 5 for 20 from the floor, 1 for 10 from three. Ouch. That performance, along with Poeltl’s absence, contributed mightily to the Lakers’ win, or as one of my Sunday players just emailed me: “Condolences for the Spurs’ pummeling.”
Both Mark and I noted the scarcity of Spurs fans in the arena. Back in the day, I would see plenty of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker jerseys, and in later years, DeRozan and Aldridge. From our seats, I could see only one Spurs jersey — a Duncan jersey on the baseline. Duncan guy and I both gave a shout-out to Sean Elliot as he walked by the game. In the second quarter, a Robinson 50 walked by Duncan guy, rejuvenating the Twin Towers at least for one brief moment. But other than those two, my Popovich-impersonating brother, and me in My Man Manu #20, that was it. Maybe the other SoCal Spurs fans just wanted to avoid the pummeling, just like Pop.
The good news is that Mark’s flight back to Colorado left Los Angeles on time at 5:40 a.m. today, so that I had some free time to finish writing this piece. I apologize for not including much substance about either of the Spurs games in Los Angeles, but if the players don’t play, I don’t write.