By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
The San Antonio Spurs seem to fly under the national radar these days.
They don't play with a lot of flair. They don't have guys who make the highlight reel every night, and don't have the superstar name that attracts a lot of attention.
But they do continue to do what they do best and that's win. San Antonio is riding a 10-game winning streak, the longest in the NBA this season, and is atop the Southwest Division with the league's fourth-best record at 22-9.
The last six wins have come on the road as the Spurs have had to endure their annual "Rodeo Road Trip" due to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo taking over their home court. But, as in the past, the Spurs seem to thrive during this stretch. This season marks the fifth time since 2003 the Spurs have reeled off at least a nine-game winning streak that included games during their yearly extended road trip.
"We're prepared for (the games) and we understand and know what it's all about," Spurs captain Tim Duncan said. "It's about seeing the road in front of you and seeing how many games you have. We want to come out with a good record on the trip. For some reason, we come out and do pretty good. It kind of solidifies our feel on the road as a team."
However, the Spurs' most recent win, a 103-100 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, came with a price. Manu Ginobili, who was playing in just his fourth game since coming back from a broken left hand, suffered a strained left oblique muscle, while backup center Tiago Splitter (9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) strained his right calf.
But don't expect the Spurs to fall apart with these injuries. One of the amazing facts about their success this season is how well they played during Ginobili's initial absence, going 15-7 during that stretch.
With coach Gregg Popovich steering the ship, backed up by his great veteran players in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, San Antonio should still win its share of games.
And speaking of Parker, I believe the 10-year veteran has to be given very strong MVP consideration. His individual numbers may not wow you - including 19.4 ppg and 7.8 apg - but his impact on the win column is what opens my eyes. He is clearly the leader of this team and the No. 1 reason why the Spurs have played so well despite losing Ginobili for such a long stretch and with Duncan playing a lesser role.
Even Ginobili realizes that San Antonio is now Parker's team.
"It's been 10 years, and he's had some amazing games, some amazing streaks," Ginobili said. "But he owns the team now; he really owns it."
Three games into his return from his broken hand, Ginobili took note of Parker's emergence as the team leader. "He's making great decisions, not forcing the issue," Ginobili said. "In the first half, he sometimes lets teammates play and then takes control of the game in the fourth quarter. That's different, and he's been very solid, very mature and the key reason we've won nine games in a row."
Parker is averaging 23.7 points during the winning streak, which includes four games in which he put up at least 30 points. And two of those 30-plus efforts came against some of the league's top point guards, as he lit up Russell Westbrook for 42 points and had 30 against Chris Paul.
The Spurs have three more road games before finally returning home on Feb. 29 to play the Bulls and reigning MVP Derrick Rose. But the only MVP chants that should be heard at that time should be reserved for the home team's point guard.
Steve Novak was pretty much a non-factor for the Knicks prior to the emergence of Jeremy Lin as he averaged just 3.6 points in 12 games. But in the eight games that Lin has been in the starting lineup, Novak is putting up 12.3 ppg and shooting 45 percent from 3-point range. It's just another example of how the Knicks' phenom has impacted the team and why he's clearly their most valuable player while they await the return of Carmelo Anthony.
Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum has taken advantage of his increased playing time this month. Batum, who has been in the starting lineup the last four games, is averaging 18.7 ppg in February, and is shooting 50 percent from the field and hitting on 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.
It was another typical defeat for the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday as they lost to the Suns in Phoenix, 102-90. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum accounted for 72 percent of the scoring with their combined 65 points. The Lakers, who are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, hit just 3 of 18 from downtown, and their horrendous point-guard tandem of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake scored a total of two points. If general manager Mitch Kupchak decides to stand pat with this roster, look for the Lakers to make an early exit from the playoffs.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.