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The Other Side: San Antonio Spurs

Last season, the San Antonio Spurs failed in their attempts to win back-to-back NBA titles for the third time. But it's an odd-numbered year. So that's a good thing, right? The Spurs have won in every odd-numbered year since 2001, establishing a mini-dynasty.

This year, winning a fourth title in seven years isn't impossible, but is much more difficult since they are getting older (we've heard that before, huh?). And, the Spurs will start the season with Manu Ginobili on the shelf because of a bum left ankle that had the Argentine looking like a shell of himself in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, and hobbling off the court during the Olympics. Ginobili had arthroscopic surgery and is expected to be out at least until December.

The Spurs also face some serious challengers in the conference with the defending Southest Division champion New Orleans Hornets, the defending Western Conference champion Lakers and the Ron Artest-upgraded Houston Rockets, to name a few.

The Spurs, however, still have Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan andTony Parker, and Ginobili will return. They have won three consecutive preseason games and are 3-2. Here are some story lines to pay attention to as the Wizards face the old Spurs tonight at 8:30 p.m.

1. Mason Fitting In
Roger Mason was the Wizards' most valuable sub last season, as he averaged a career-high 9.1 points and filled in admirably for Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels. During the offseason, the Wizards blew all of their money re-signing Arenas and Antawn Jamison and elected to let Mason explore other options. He signed a two-year, $7.3 million deal.

He is averaging 7.8 points and shooting 37.1 percent in four preseason games, which includes two starts, while Popovich looks for someone to open the season in place of Ginobili. Veteran Michael Finley is the favorite to open the year at shooting guard. Mason is still adjusting to his new surroundings after spending the past two seasons with his hometown Wizards.

Here's today's San Antonio Express-News:

His move to San Antonio, in every way, is still a work in progress. He's moved into a new house near Stone Oak, for instance, but still drives a car with Maryland plates. Sometimes, he spends more time in that car than he cares to admit. "I've been around (Loop) 1604 a few times," Mason said. "I've done a few laps by accident."
Mason's gas-guzzling excursions aside, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been impressed with how quickly the 28-year-old has transitioned to a new environment. "Roger's had a great training camp," Popovich said. "He's been a big-time scorer in camp. He's learned the defense. He passes to the open man. Again, a great teammate. He's been outstanding, and we're thrilled we were able to bring him here."

2. The Age Old, Old Age Questions
The Spurs have been called old for the past 10 years, even when they were carried by a young Tim Duncan or a young Tony Parker. But the "Spurs are old" drumbeat is getting louder this season, as the team's reliance on veterans has them looking a step slower than the younger upstarts in the conference. Here's ESPN's John Hollinger on the topic:

Everyone else can be expected to be somewhere between slightly worse and massively worse than they were a year ago. Taken individually, it doesn't seem so horrible that Ginobili and Udoka are 31, or that Mason is 29, for instance. It's when you start piling up the cumulative impact of all their ages that it really sinks in. Bowen is 37, Finley and Thomas are 35, Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn are 33 and Duncan is 32. Yeesh.

He then added this:

San Antonio is trying to squeeze two more years out of this nucleus, but there's a possibility they won't make it that long -- in fact, the roster's advanced age leaves open the possibility of a sudden, unexpected collapse. I don't think it's likely, mind you, but that's the thing about sudden age-related collapses -- we never expect it. Just ask Miami.

A rapid Heat-like droppoff is unlikely, but the Spurs will have to generate some offense from some older wing players, especially with Ginobili out for a month. It would be hard to ask Finley, Ime Udoka and even Mason to fill the gap, which will likely place more pressure on Parker and Duncan in the outset.

3. Popov Smurf
Have you seen Popovich this summer? If you haven't, he has a new, bearded look. It's pretty scraggly and Rip Van Winkle-ish. I read somewhere, where he was compared to Muppets creator Jim Henson. Popovich has gone grizzly - and no, he didn't catch on to the DeShawn Stevenson-Drew Gooden bet a year too late. He actually went on a fishing trip to Vancouver, spotted a bear and came back looking like Paul Bunyon. The look isn't expected to make it to the regular season, but it has led to some funny jokes. Here's the Buck Harvey of the Express-News:

Popovich says he has heard all the jokes, and he's made a few jokes himself. On media day he announced he would do whatever Tim Duncan wanted him to do regarding this matter. "If he tells me he wants it gone, it's gone," Popovich said. "If he wants me to leave it, I'll leave it. If he wants me to trim it, I'll trim it."
That leads to another explanation why the beard still existed as of Saturday. Duncan likes it. But Duncan probably sees this beard as all of the Spurs do. Popovich has grown summer beards before, and they've always gone down the drain before the start of training camp. Yet the Spurs show up the next day in the gym, expecting change, and there is the beard, seemingly another inch longer. Now they joke and wonder. Will he leave the Spurs for a ZZ Top tour?

By Michael Lee  |  October 22, 2008; 10:20 AM ET
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Next: No First Quarter Blues In Texas



Posted by: kcandlc | October 22, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, another painful reminder about Mason, now we are paying the price with a cheapie contracts for Juan Dixon & Dee Brown to fill roles. The Arenas/Jamison contracts will choke us for years.

Posted by: Wizzy | October 22, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, I don't think Wizards management cares about how competitive the team is as long as it draws well. Assuming Agent Zero comes back in Janauary and they can field a .500 team that makes it to the 1st round, there's no incentive to make any moves to secure a legit replacement for Heywood. I'll be shocked if anyone but Etan is the starting center this year unless McGee develops real quick.

Posted by: wizfan89 | October 22, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Abe Polin = Al Davis

Posted by: Anonymous | October 22, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I like the wiz, just like they izz.

Posted by: wizz | October 22, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

You all are ridiculous. Mason was good for us last year but this is the nature of the business. Nick Young showed he can play in this league and he's going to have to step up with an increased role. If he can do that we should be just fine. We didn't have Arenas all last season either (and when we did have him we started 0-5) and, again, we were fine. Our young guys (no pun intended) just need to continue to develop and play well in increased roles. Again, those roles should be significantly heightened because Jordan needs to find a way to keep Caron and Jamison off the court for more than 8 minutes every game.

Posted by: Alex | October 22, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Question for EJ is who's going to be first off the bench at the 2? Juan or NY.

Posted by: DC Man88 | October 22, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

You won't have to worry about Etan being the starting center for the entire year. He'll inevitably get hurt at some point during the 1st 20 games or so.

A scary scenario however would be if Eddie Jordan decides to start Darius Songaila at C once Etan goes down instead of Blatche or McGee.

Posted by: Dat2U | October 22, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Antonio Daniels (who won a chip with the Spurs) interview:

Posted by: rgz | October 22, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

"Abe Polin = Al Davis

Posted by: Anonymous | October 22, 2008 12:04 PM "

Abe Pollin = Ted Lerner (Nats)

Posted by: DC Man88 | October 22, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

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