Vet­eran scorer closes gap be­tween Western pow­ers

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - Sam Amick sram­ick@us­ato­ USA TO­DAY Sports

The Golden State War­riors should be ner­vous — or at least mildly con­cerned — about the San An­to­nio Spurs. And no, that’s not a joke. Crazy as it might sound con­sid­er­ing the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons’ sur­real sea­son, the Spurs, al­ready on the War­riors’ heels (55-5 for Golden State vs. 52-9), got even bet­ter Fri­day night by agree­ing to sign vet­eran shoot­ing guard Kevin Martin. The 33-yearold scorer agreed to a buy­out with the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves on Tues­day, then ze­roed in on the op­por­tu­nity to help the Spurs win a sixth ti­tle since 1999.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the other teams for invit­ing me into their or­ga­ni­za­tions,” Martin told USA TO­DAY Sports in a text mes­sage. “But at the end of the day this just felt right!”

Not too long ago Martin was con­sid­ered one of the most pro­duc­tive and ef­fi­cient scor­ers in the game. His ca­reer high in

scor­ing came in the 2010-11 sea­son (23.5 points a game) with the Hous­ton Rock­ets, and he av­er­aged 19.1 points and 20 points a game, re­spec­tively, in the past two sea­sons with the Tim­ber­wolves. In his 12 sea­sons, he has av­er­aged 17.6 points a game (43.8% shoot­ing over­all, 38.5% from three-point range, 87% from the free throw line), 3.2 re­bounds and 1.9 as­sists per game.

But in terms of help­ing an elite team work to­ward a ti­tle, Martin’s 2012-13 sea­son with the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der is the most ap­pli­ca­ble com­par­i­son here: While com­ing off the bench, Martin av­er­aged 14 points on 45% shoot­ing over­all, 42.6% from three-point range and 89% from the line and was a key part of a Thun­der team that went 60-22 in the reg­u­lar sea­son and fell to the Mem­phis Griz­zlies in five games in the se­cond round. Ok­la­homa City lost point guard Rus­sell West­brook just two games into the first round against the Rock­ets, how­ever, when his col­li­sion with point guard Pa­trick Bev­er­ley re­sulted in a torn menis­cus.

The Martin sign­ing isn’t the only Spurs boon of late, as vet­eran guard Manu Gi­no­bili is ex­pected to re­turn next week af­ter miss­ing amonth be­cause of a tes­tic­u­lar in­jury that re­quired surgery. And if Martin can re­cap­ture that form while fit­ting in with this Kawhi Leonard/LaMar­cus Aldridge/Tony Parker/ Tim Dun­can/Gi­no­bili-led Spurs group that has the third-best of­fense in the league (109 points scored per 100 pos­ses­sions), then even the seem­ingly un­stop­pable War­riors might have rea­son to worry about San An­to­nio. If they weren’t al­ready.

De­spite the level of well-de­served hype sur­round­ing the War­riors, the truth is the Spurs have been win­ning at a higher clip since Dec. 2.

De­spite the level of well-de­served hype sur­round­ing the War­riors, the truth is the Spurs have been win­ning at a higher clip since Dec. 2 (.884 win­ning per­cent­age com­pared to .878) while prov­ing to be the su­pe­rior de­fen­sive team. Not only are the Spurs tops in the NBA when it comes to de­fend­ing (96.2 points al­lowed per 100 pos­ses­sions), but they’re sig­nif­i­cantly ahead of the fifthrated War­riors (101.6).

In terms of a po­ten­tial clash of hoops ti­tans in the post­sea­son, the sam­ple size to this point is too small to hand­i­cap it. The War­riors dom­i­nated the only matchup be­tween the teams so far, win­ning 120-90 at Or­a­cle Arena on Jan. 25 when San An­to­nio, play­ing with­out Dun­can, al­lowed the War­riors to shoot 51.8% from the field and gave up 37 points to reign­ing MVP Stephen Curry.

The War­riors and Spurs square off again March 19 at the AT&T Cen­ter, fol­lowed by an April 7 meet­ing at Or­a­cle Arena and a fi­nal matchup three days later in San An­to­nio. The race to the ti­tle that will en­sue from there, it seems clear, might be far more com­pelling than most might as­sume.


Kevin Martin has av­er­aged 17.6 points a game for his ca­reer.

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