The San Antonio Spurs have traditionally done well during their annual “rodeo” road trip, but their struggles this month have added extra importance to the next eight games.
With a rodeo being held at the AT&T Center, San Antonio begins its longest road trip of the season on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is the fifth season the Spurs (31-14) have gone on the trip. The team has gone 25-6 the previous four seasons, including 6-2 last year.
“January hasn’t been very good for us, so going on a long road trip is either going to pull us together or apart,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, whose team is 8-6 this month. “Hopefully it is together. Usually it is the part of the season where we make the biggest step forward.”
The team begins the road trip coming off a 112-96 win over Memphis on Friday. The Spurs made 60.8 percent from the floor—their second-best shooting effort of the season—and received another impressive performance from Tim Duncan.
Duncan was 10-of-16 from the field for 26 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and had a career-high nine blocked shots. He’s averaged 22.9 points, 12.6 boards and 3.9 blocks over the past seven games.
“He’s just playing great basketball,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “Hopefully the rest of us will follow.”
Friday’s win marked the first time in 10 games the Spurs scored 100 points. They’re averaging 98.6 this season.
The first three games of San Antonio’s road trip will arguably the toughest. After facing the Lakers (27-16), owners of the league’s fifth-best record, the Spurs play on back-to-back nights against division leaders Utah and Phoenix.
The team also faces Washington, Orlando, Miami, New Jersey and Detroit during the trip before returning home Feb. 20 to face Denver.
“It’s always been a situation where our guys look at it as an opportunity to pull together and do their things in a hostile environment,” Popovich said. “It helps with their toughness, confidence and focus.”
The Spurs are 15-6 on the road and have won four of their last five away from San Antonio.
They have lost the previous two matchups this season against the Lakers, committing 19 turnovers in both and allowing Kobe Bryant to score 34 points in each game.
Bryant had 32 points on Friday against Charlotte, but the Lakers lost for the third time in four games, 106-97 in overtime.
At 28 years and 156 days, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 18,000 points. Wilt Chamberlain did so at 28 years and 166 days, followed by Michael Jordan at 28 years and 359 days.
“It’s always special,” Bryant said. “Things like that really don’t sink in until the end of your career.”
Bryant’s 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left sent the game into overtime, but he had only two points in the extra period.
“They played better than we did in overtime,” Bryant said. “We tried to force our way to the basket a little bit and tried to draw some calls. We didn’t get them and they converted at the other end.”
The Lakers shot 42 percent from the floor and committed 21 turnovers after having a season-high 24 in a 108-103 win over Golden State four days earlier. They’ve been held below 45 percent from the field in four straight games, going 28-of-87 (32.2 percent) from 3-point range.
This is the finale of a three-game homestand for Los Angeles. The team opens a season-high, eight-game road trip on Tuesday at New York.