There’s just something that never feels fair about putting the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans together in the same sentence.
The Spurs are... well, the Spurs — maybe the most optimally run professional sports franchise in North America. They’re a five-time world champion. They’ve made the playoffs 18 consecutive seasons and 25 of the last 26 going back to the 1989-90 season. They’ve won at least 50 games every year but one since 1997. The lone exception was the lockout-shortened season in 1998, a year in which they won 74 percent of their games and the NBA title.
They’ve had the insanely good fortune of drafting franchise cornerstone after franchise cornerstone. David Robinson’s team became Tim Duncan’s team. Duncan’s team became Kawhi Leonard’s. And I’m sure 15 years from now Leonard’s team will be passed on to some guy that will make us all say “they did it again.” Interestingly though, Gregg Popovich claimed earlier in the week that the Spurs had no clue Leonard would morph into one of the best players in the league.
"We saw his size and his athleticism, his work ethic, the way he practiced, the way he played, his toughness, so we made the decision," Popovich said of the 2011 draft night trade that sent George Hill to Indiana for Leonard (and Davis Bertans).
"But when we made the trade, we were very nervous about it, because we really didn't know.
"We knew what we were giving up, because George Hill was great for us, but we needed more size, so R.C. (Buford) and I, and Danny Ferry, rolled the bones."
Nice gamble, huh?
The organization in San Antonio is the model of excellence; sadly, the Pelicans couldn’t be farther from that as they’re still striving to sustain any success in the post-Chris Paul era. But once again, these two division foes will take the court in the Smoothie King Center.
The Spurs are sitting pretty in the NBA’s elite tier of teams with Golden State and Cleveland. At 36-9, they’re quietly only two games behind the Warriors in the loss column for the top seed in the West. Winners of five consecutive games, the Spurs have had the past two nights off prior to Friday’s matchup with the Pelicans.
San Antonio is down some key contributors, however: Pau Gasol had surgery on a finger in his left hand and will be out four to six weeks; Tony Parker’s missed the past four games with a sprained foot; even Kawhi Leonard has been out the past two games with what’s being called a sore hand. On top of all that, Johnathan Simmons missed San Antonio’s last game with a wrist injury. Add that all together and I think the Pelicans might actually have a shot!
...ehh. No, probably not. Sorry I got a little excited there.
Even if Leonard is a no go (and I’m betting he winds up playing) the Spurs still have LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee in their front court. And if Anthony Davis is still hampered by the nagging thigh bruise, it could be a long night for the Pelican bigs.
The Pelicans do have a history of being an absolute pest for San Antonio. For whatever reason, this team has a bit of history of playing the Spurs well on occasion. Hopefully a pleasant surprise awaits.
What: Pelicans vs. Spurs
Where: Smoothie King Center - New Orleans, LA
When: January 27th, 2017 at 7:00 PM Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, FSSW, WRNO - 99.5 FM