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The Other Side: San Antonio Spurs

This doesn't get any easier. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan helped lead the West to a slaughter of the East during the All-Star Game on Sunday, but the San Antonio Spurs have taken some lumps since the break. First, they have to start the unofficial second-half of the season without Manu Ginobili (ankle) for the next two to three weeks. Then, they opened with an overtime loss to the New York Knicks in which their formerly staunch defense couldn't contain tiny Krypto-Nate Robinson. And finally, they came thisclose to acquiring wiry shot-blocking center Marcus Camby from the Los Angeles Clippers before the deal (which would've cost them just Bruce Bowen, George Hill and Fabricio Oberto) collapsed right at the deadline. At least the Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons on Thursday.

The Southwest Division-leading Spurs (36-17) arrive in Washington on the tail end of their annual Rodeo Trip, the lengthy three-week stretch of the season when the San Antonio Stockshow and Rodeo takes over the AT&T Center and has the team bouncing all over the map. After tonight's game, the Spurs would have traveled 10,761 miles over 19 days and through eight cities. They are currently 4-3, with wins over Golden State, Boston, New Jersey and Detroit and losses to Denver, Toronto and New York.

The Spurs are considered the greatest challenger to the Los Angeles Lakers, but they currently tied for second in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets. This is their first meeting of the season against the Washington Wizards, a team San Antonio has defeated five consecutive times, including two in a row in the District. Here's what else you need to know about the Spurs before they play the Wizards tonight at Verizon Center:

1. Manu Ginobili Is Hurting
Manu Ginobili's right ankle has been troublesome for a while, and limited him during the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He re-injured the ankle playing for Argentina in the Olympics, then missed the first 12 games of the season after having surgery in September. The ankle came back to bother him when he scored a season-high 32 points in a win against Golden State on Feb. 2 and knocked him out after he scored 32 again in a loss against Toronto in the final game before the all-star break on Feb. 11. But the Spurs will be without Ginobili -- and his 22.4 points -- for the next two to three weeks after test results revealed a stress reaction in his lower left leg. The injury isn't considered season-ending, but it could have a huge affect on the playoff picture in the West. The Spurs are 8-8 without Ginobili this season.

2. Roger Mason Jr. Is Coming Back Home
An under-the-radar contributor to the Wizards' surprising run to the playoffs last season, Roger Mason Jr. has landed in the spotlight in San Antonio. He signed a two-year, $7.3 million deal last summer after seemingly getting squeezed out of the rotation in Washington. But the Spurs aren't complaining with Mason nailing four heroic shots this season, with three coming on national television. He hit a game-winning three-pointer against Phoenix on Christmas, a game-winning three-point play against the Lakers on Jan. 14, and gutsy pull-up three-pointer in Boston on Feb. 8 (His other game-winner came against the Clippers on Nov. 17). Mason ranks eighth in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (43.9) and ran into Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld on his flight to Phoenix, where he competed in the three-point shootout. Having a career year with the Spurs, Mason, the kid used to watch the Bullets at the Cap Centre, is excited about returning home.

3. The Spurs' Defense Isn't As Good
Adding Marcus Camby may have been the answer to one of Coach Gregg Popovich's greatest concerns about his team this season -- defense. Defense has been the key to the San Antonio Spurs' success under Popovich. It has resulted in four championships but also contributed to their reputation for being "boring" and low ratings whenever they reach the NBA Finals. The Spurs' defense is still good, but not great. The Spurs rank seventh in the NBA in scoring defense (94.5 points), but just 17th in field goal percentage defense (45.8 percent). Popovich places much more importance on field goal percentage defense (which might explain why Washington and Sacramento are the worst teams in that category and have the worst records in their respective conferences). In his l1 full seasons as coach, the Spurs never ranked lower than fifth in that category.

By Michael Lee  |  February 21, 2009; 11:49 AM ET
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Next: Wizards (13-42) vs Spurs (36-17)


So what happened to the Wizard's publicly announced plans to go more with the younger players?

I wish they would stop running CB and AJ into the ground just to get 20 wins for the season and reduce the chance of getting Blake Griffin which IMHO they should go over the cap to sign.

Posted by: charley42 | February 21, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

"Popovich places much more importance on field goal percentage defense (which might explain why Washington and Sacramento are the worst teams in that category and have the worst records in their respective conferences). In his l1 full seasons as coach, the Spurs never ranked lower than fifth in that category."

Yes, and it's something of a mystery, because they haven't really lost any key defensive players, and Roger Mason never hurts any team's defense.

Could be they're slowing down some (that's the prevailing opinion in the San Antonio media).

Posted by: Samson151 | February 21, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Go Wizards! 3 game win streak!

Posted by: rachel216 | February 21, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Tonite's performance by Roger Mason Jr. is another nail in coffin of Ernie Grunfeld, and not because Mason torched his former team after all he is having a career year(good for him) it further demonstrates my point that Grunfeld has underminded Eddie Jordan and the Wizards by mismanaging negotiations concerning Mason,Arenas, and Jamison not to mention contract extensions to undeserving players,take a look at the current eastern conference standings only seven teams have records over five hundred you mean to tell me had Grunfeld managed the cap and negotiated Arenas and Jamison contracts with common sense that they could not have kept Mason, and the Wizards stayed in the playoff hunt with EJ at the helm? Grunfeld wanted Jordan out and he sacrificed the Wizard's season and playoff chances for his own selfish control of the team and now where are we? In Salary Cap Hell!!! As I stated in an earlier post Grunfeld should have either fired Jordan before the season started(which would not have made sense) or waited until this season played itself out.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 21, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

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