Teams don’t like to lose stars for any amount of time. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks or Avery Johnson.
The San Antonio Spurs will likely be without Manu Ginobili for the next two weeks, as he nurses a strained left hamstring. El Contusion is always this close to his next malady, though they don’t seem to keep him down for long.
“Will be back shortly,” Manu tweeted Monday.
This season’s list of injuries includes back spasms, and bruises of the quadriceps and thigh variety. Ginobili, though, had only missed four out of San Antonio’s first 40 games. (And one of those was Pop’s Miami Getaway.)
But now the 35-year-old is sidelined for nearly the rest of January. The Southwest Division-leading Spurs are sitting 29-11 in the Western Conference, just a smidge behind leaders Oklahoma City (29-8) and the Los Angeles Clippers (28-9).
Assuming it’s 14 days, Ginobili will miss seven games. San Antonio’s first three during that stretch offer up the toughest set of challenges. Memphis, the Spurs’ closest pursuers in the Southwest and West, leads off Wednesday at the AT&T Center. Another home game follows Friday against surprising Golden State before heading to Atlanta on Saturday.
Those three teams are a combined 68-39 (.636) going into Monday. The next four in the Manu-less run — Philadelphia, New Orleans, Dallas and Phoenix — limp in at 55-97 (.362). The Spurs should be fine in the win-loss column even if they struggle to finish out this week.
History suggests that they’ll be fine regardless. San Antonio has won at over a .600 clip during the regular season without Ginobili during his 11-year career. Considering the Spurs’ depth, especially at Manu’s spot, Gregg Popovich’s crew is well positioned to absorb his absence.
Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson and rookie Nando de Colo can help pick up the slack. And of course Pop has a born-again Tim Duncan and always-dangerous Tony Parker to lean on.
Green is averaging a career-high 9.5 points as Parker’s backcourt mate. He’s knocked down seven 3-pointers in a game and surpassed 20 points on three occasions. Leonard is scoring just under nine points per game. Jackson is still capable of lighting it up any give night, while de Colo has done his best Manu impression at times this season.
But the guy in the spotlight is Neal. The former journeyman is having his best statistical season. He’s scoring career-high 10.6 points and has already started in a career-high 16 games. Neal has reached double figures 15 times, including 15 points in relief of Ginobili in Sunday’s win over Minnesota.
“We need him,” Duncan said of Neal. “He plays a big role for us. He’s a spark for us. He can come in and knock down some shots for us. He can put some easy points on the board for us. He gives us a huge boost. We’re going to need him if Manu is going to be down for an extended amount of time.”
Luckily, it’s not extended. The Spurs should be fine and will play without the pressure of having to rush Manu back, not that Popovich would ever consider that. Player health is his priority, and with the playoffs three months away, there’s plenty of time for Ginobili to regain his rhythm.
The Spurs don’t like to see him in street clothes during games. But unlike many of their rivals, they can handle it.