Somehow, the San Antonio Spurs are still failing to convince some they can survive a top-heavy Western Conference. Jumping out of the All-Star break with a win over the team that knocked them out of last season's playoffs might help.
The ailing Spurs hope a week off helps boost them back into their rodeo road trip, which continues Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
San Antonio (45-8) is on pace for the third-best record in NBA history, but some still balk at the notion the aging Spurs can compete with Golden State in the West.
Of concern is the health of Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. Ginobili will miss at least another two weeks after undergoing testicular surgery earlier this month, and Duncan returned from an eight-game absence before the break but will likely require more time off to nurse his sore right knee.
Sure, Duncan, 39, and Ginobili, 38, are only averaging a combined 18.8 points - well below their combined career average of 33.3 - but their postseason experience is key to the well-oiled San Antonio machine.
The Spurs click on all cylinders in San Antonio, building a 28-0 record in the first half for the best home start ever by a West team. However, it's been a bit more of an adventure on the road, where they will play their next six to close a season-high eight-game trip.
"We've just got to get together as a team and build our chemistry," said forward Kawhi Leonard, who made his first All-Star appearance Sunday. "Good teams win on the road. That's how you win championships."
San Antonio has won three straight road games, including victories over Miami and Orlando before the break, but is still 17-8 away from home - merely a good record for a team that has far exceeded the word in most areas.
One of the most glaring examples is 3-point shooting - offensively and defensively. The Spurs shoot 39.3 percent and hold opponents to 31.7, short of only the Warriors' marks of 42.4 and 31.4. That has the Spurs on pace for a 0.76 3-point differential, which would be the third-best ever behind their own 0.78 in 2000-01 and Golden State's current 1.1.
To put that into perspective, the Spurs' 3-point differential is nearly five times better than the Clippers' 0.16, which is still tied with Oklahoma City for the league's sixth-best mark.
Leonard is the NBA's top 3-point shooter at 48.2 percent, and J.J. Redick is second at 47.6 for Los Angeles (35-18).
The Clippers will get their shot against the league's top two teams shooting and defending the 3 as they open a four-game homestand with matchups against the Spurs and Warriors at Staples Center, where Los Angeles is 17-8.
San Antonio made 10 of 19 3s while visiting Los Angeles connected on 10 of 24 in a 115-107 Spurs' victory Dec. 18 in the first meeting since the Clippers won Games 6 and 7 in the first round of the playoffs last season. They have split the last 10 games in Los Angeles, including the playoffs.
Blake Griffin scored 25 for the Clippers in this season's first matchup, but he will be sidelined until sometime next month with a broken hand after punching team staff member Matias Testi at a Toronto restaurant Jan. 23.
Griffin will also serve a four-game suspension from the Clippers, though coach Doc Rivers said the team had not even considered trading him despite rumors to the contrary leading up to Thursday's deadline.
"I've told you we're not trading Blake," Rivers said Wednesday. "I guess everyone else wants to keep (saying) that, so we'll let them do it. Not from us at all."
Los Angeles, though, did make arguably the most notable move of deadline day by acquiring Jeff Green from Memphis for Lance Stephenson. Whereas Stephenson wasn't even a regular in the rotation, Green could be a major contributor as he reunites with Rivers, whom he played for in Boston. Green, who could debut Saturday against Golden State, averaged 19.9 points in his final eight games for the Grizzlies.