Hollinger's PER Diem: Nov. 5, 2008

Everyone said last night was a historic evening, the kind that happens once a generation. They were correct: For the first time in 35 years, the Spurs fell to 0-3 after Tuesday's 98-81 loss to Dallas. What, you were thinking of something else?

While San Antonio's slow start can't compare to the landmark election results in terms of jarring impact, it's nonetheless a big story on the NBA landscape. Many had presumed the Spurs could make a run back to the conference finals this season, and it's possible they'll still get there. But through three games, it ain't looking good. The Spurs have already lost twice at home, and last night's defeat was significant because they were bushwhacked by a Dallas team that was playing on back-to-back nights and didn't play well against Cleveland on Monday.

Here's the part where Spurs fans should really start worrying: Tony Parker is leading the league in PER, and Tim Duncan is third and yet the team still hasn't won a game. That's major red-flag territory, people -- San Antonio's two stars couldn't possibly be playing any better, and it hasn't been enough to get them even one win.

Ready to be shocked further? Try this: The Spurs are dead last in defensive efficiency. It's not a close dead last, either -- even lowly Sacramento ranks well ahead of them. Parker and Duncan are dominating and the team is second in the NBA in offensive efficiency, but the normally buttoned-down San Antonio D has been surrendering points with such ease that it hasn't mattered.

When the season started, the consensus was that San Antonio was trying to hang on until Manu Ginobili could return in early to mid-December (they hope) or late December (I suspect). But that perspective relies on the assumption that the Spurs are a quality defensive team that only needs Ginobili's added firepower to hang with the elite contenders. Through three games, they've been a completely different team from what we expected, and unless they get some stops, getting Ginobili back isn't going to make much of a difference.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.