The Magic wrap up a back-to-back-to-back trying to become the second team to sweep the three-game sets. The trio of games ends with Orlando hosting San Antonio, the standard bearer of the small-market franchises. The Spurs are still one of the best teams in the league, entering the game at 9-5 and tops in the Southwest Division. Even after a surprising and, somewhat humiliating, loss to the Heat last night at American Airlines Arena, the Spurs are still a team to be wary of. They will still play hard and with the defensive grit that is the hallmark of Gregg Popovich teams.
As the Magic get ready to host the Spurs on Wednesday night, I reached out to our good friends over at Project Spurs. I spoke with Project Spurs’ Trevor Zickgraf to discuss tonight’s game, how the Spurs are rebuilding and even to dig up a little history on big men free agents.
Orlando Magic Daily: Arguably the two teams that disappointed most in the Playoffs last year were the two teams that got upset in the first round — the Magic and the Spurs. Obviously San Antonio was the No. 1 seed in the West so it was a little bit different, but what have the Spurs done both on and off the court to bounce back from that Playoff defeat?
Trevor Zickgraf: Mostly they’re younger and more athletic than last season. They’re insanely deep at the guard position, which shows with how well they have been playing with Manu [Ginobili] and T.J. Ford out. Tiago Splitter‘s improved play has helped limit Duncan’s minutes early in the season.
OMD: Manu Ginobili has been out for a while now. What have the Spurs been doing to makeup for his absence? Can they keep playing at a high level even without him?
Trevor: I said when Manu went down I’d be happy with them going .500, and I’ll stand by that. I think this could be a rough week for them. Playing at Miami [eds. note: the Spurs lost 120-98] and at Orlando on a back-to-back is tough. Seven of their next nine games are on the road, where they’ve struggled so I could see a slight slide for them.
OMD: For better or worse, the Spurs are considered one of the older teams in the league. How has Gregg Popovich been managing the team’s minutes while keeping San Antonio competitive? Is age completely a state of mind or a media creation when looking at this team?
Trevor: At this point it’s mostly a media creation. Duncan and Ginobili are old in basketball terms. Everyone else isn’t. But the image of this team is Duncan, Ginobili and Parker and has been for almost 10 years.
OMD: What player needs to have a big game against the Magic to get a Spurs victory? What is the key to tonight’s game?
Trevor: Tony Parker has to continue to play really well. He has to force the issue and get easy buckets for himself and his teammates. Also, Tiago Splitter needs play at least o.k. against Dwight [Howard].
OMD: Magic fans got the other side of this back in 2000 when we were chasing after Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, and media coverage has changed dramatically in 12 years. What do you remember from Duncan’s impending free agency? What similarities or differences do you see from that season to the “Dwight-mare” Magic fans are going through now?
Trevor: I remember thinking ‘There’s no way he’s leaving’ because of his relationships with Coach Pop and David Robinson. During the season before his free agency people obviously talked about Duncan leaving, but it didn’t dominate ESPN, NBATV and the Internet like Dwight’s situation. I think the other difference is the relationship Duncan had (and still has) with Pop and Robinson. Dwight has never really had a big brother to look up to in Orlando to learn from. I think that above all else has helped make Duncan the leader on the floor he’s been for some time now.
Many thanks to Trevor for providing his perspective on the Spurs for tonight’s game. It should be another interesting challenge for the streaking Magic. Tip off is at 7 p.m. tonight at Amway Center. Sun Sports has the broadcast of the game. Be sure to check out the great coverage of the Spurs on Project Spurs.