Despite winning 15 of the past 17 games including an 11-game winning streak that was snapped Friday in Denver, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has little praise for his team that sits a half-game out of the Western Conference lead with 21 games to play.
"We're not at the same level we were last year at this time, even though we seem to be situated relatively well in the West," he said after falling to the Nuggets. "This team isn't as good as last year's team. We have significant improvement that we have to make both mentally and physically if we're going to be able to contend for a championship."
When asked to comment on Popovich's assessment of the Spurs, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni - who only wishes he had such problems with his Suns at present - wasn't buying what Popovich was selling.
"He didn't think they were any good last year, and they always do it. I'm not getting sucked into Pop and his talk," D'Antoni said, smiling. "Actually, I hope he's right for once. He's never been right yet because they are always good. They are going to be at least as good as they were last year, if not better."
As many times as he hits the floor or comes away limping or otherwise battered, it would figure that Manu Ginobili's playing style would one day catch up with him. But it hasn't happened yet - not even close.
Ginobili leads the Spurs in scoring (20.7 ppg) and has carried the team while injuries have beset Tony Parker and inconsistency has plagued Tim Duncan. D'Antoni, who saw a lot of Ginobili when the two were in Europe, isn't surprised that he hasn't lost a thing despite his kamikaze style.
"Not only would you think he would slow down, but you also hope he will," D'Antoni said. "I've seen him here and in Europe and he's one of the best players in the world, no doubt. I don't think he ever gets mentioned ... I don't think he even made the All-Star team and I think that's a travesty.
"He symbolizes everything you want a player to be. He's great in the clutch, great at coming up with the loose ball, great defending, great on offense, unselfish, takes a contract for less money so that his team is better ... I just don't think you can say too much about him. People talk about Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron (James), but this guy is right there in the conversation."
RING OF HIZZONER?
None of Kevin Johnson's former teammates were shocked at the news that he has decided to run for mayor of Sacramento - despite his repeated vows to steer clear of politics.
Suns vice president of player programs Mark West remains good friends with KJ and said he got a call a few days before the official announcement was made.
"It's something he wants to do, something he feels strongly about. He wants to make the place he grew up better," West said. "Yeah, he might have said all those things about (not being in public life) but it's the way to make the biggest impact. I think he'd make a great choice."
Cedric Ceballos was caught off-guard by the news but said it made perfect sense. "I'll bet he had that (announcement) speech all ready to go for years," he said, smiling. "When we played, all you heard about was Charles (Barkley) becoming (the governor) of Alabama. But Kevin was the one you thought would wind up doing it."
Utah special assistant Jeff Hornacek, who was KJ's backcourt partner in Phoenix for five seasons, wondered what took so long. "He'll do a good job if he gets in. He's got the leadership qualities and the desire to help people. I don't know if I'd ever want to get into politics ... but Kevin has a great head start - he's got all the suits."