Spurs’ Ginobili to return Saturday against Nets

NEW YORK (AP) — Manu Ginobili will return to the San Antonio Spurs’ lineup on Saturday in New Jersey after missing more than a month with a broken left hand.

Ginobili practiced Friday and will play against the Nets, though coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t sure if he would start and said his minutes would be “not many.”

Ginobili said he was tired after the workout, agreeing with Popovich that he wasn’t in shape.

“I don’t have great expectations for the first few games. I just want to contribute, help a little bit, don’t change anything of what the team’s doing, just try to fit in again,” Ginobili said.

“I think at the beginning I’m not going to play 30 minutes (but) come back slowly. I mean I wasn’t in great shape even before the surgery, so not going to be now.”

Ginobili was hurt on Jan. 2 in the fifth game of the season when he reached in and fouled Minnesota’s Anthony Tolliver as Tolliver rose to shoot. It was believed Ginobili could miss as much as two months, but he’s been playing 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 in practice and said he’s been ready to return for a few days.

He was averaging 17.4 points when he was hurt, but the Spurs have been surprisingly fine without him. San Antonio has won six straight behind Tim Duncan, All-Star Tony Parker, and a solid group of young role players to pull into second place in the Western Conference.

“I think the group has exceeded our expectations and mostly because Timmy’s been so steady, Tony’s played so well and the young kids, the bench guys, have outdone themselves,” Popovich said.

Ginobili said he believed he was ready to go two games ago, but understood the doctor wanting to wait until it had been at least four weeks after the surgery so the bone could heal. Plus, he recalled returning too quickly from a stress fracture in his ankle in 2008, so preferred being cautious this time.

He said the hand is strong now, even allowing him to go for some steals Friday. And Popovich said there was no reason to wait, even with the team doing so well without Ginobili.

“When Manu’s ready, you bring him back, so that made it easy,” Popovich said. “He’s Manu and when he’s ready to go, you don’t care if you’re winning, losing, it doesn’t matter. He’s coming back.”