Resting Spurs in no rush to start next round
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs fretted all season about not getting enough rest.
Now they might get a little too much.
Dominating Utah in a four-game sweep reasserted the top-seeded Spurs as a front-running contender for a fifth NBA championship, but quickly ousting the Jazz has also left San Antonio with potentially plenty of time to kill while waiting for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We just want to keep our rhythm and keep our conditioning as best we can,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday.
The Spurs will play either Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers, who led that series 3-1 heading into Wednesday night. Regardless how long that series goes, the Spurs aren’t likely to host Game 1 until Saturday at the earliest and Tuesday at the latest.
San Antonio finished off the Jazz on Monday. The Spurs practiced Wednesday for the first time since then, and guard Manu Ginobili expressed no qualms about taking an extended break following a lockout-shortened season that the Spurs ended by playing 16 games in 23 days.
Far as Ginobili is concerned, the Grizzlies and Clippers can take their time.
“I think I prefer a long series. Whoever wins gets a little more tired,” Ginobili said.
One upside of the layoff is that the Spurs worked in 5-on-5 practices Wednesday for the first time since the All-Star break. Yet the time off also puts Popovich in an ironic predicament after the NBA coach of the year so obsessively managed minutes, particularly those of his Big Three. Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker were twice benched this season while the Spurs boasted 11-game winning streaks, simply because Popovich didn’t want to wear them out.
Those winning streaks predictably ended both times, but Popovich ended the season getting what he wanted: everyone healthy. Now the challenge is keeping the rust off.
It’s an issue microphones caught the Spurs grappling with on the court even during the Jazz series. When Popovich first tried sitting Parker for good during a 31-point blowout in Game 2 — telling his All-Star that he’d be up to 29 minutes if he finished the third quarter — his point guard balked at the idea.
“I didn’t play for three days, Pop,” Parker pleaded. “I’m 29 years old.”
Parker said afterward he just wanted to keep his conditioning. On Wednesday, Ginobili said the biggest concern is not losing momentum built during a 14-game winning streak, which ranks among the six longest winning streaks sustained into the NBA playoffs since 1986. The longest streak is 19 set by the Lakers in 2001.
“You prefer not to wait for eight days because you lose your rhythm a little. But it’s not something that bad,” Ginobili said. “And you got the opportunity to prepare a little bit more for whoever you’re going to play. Individually, you can work on things you have time to work on. So you gain in some regards, and you lose a little rhythm.”
Despite the often grueling pace of the condensed regular season– more back-to-backs, and some back-to-back-to-backs — the Spurs got through with Duncan and Ginobili averaging among the fewest minutes of their careers. Duncan played 28.2 minutes a game while Ginobili played 23.3, logging seven fewer minutes a game than he did a year ago.
Popovich could do that, in part, because of the deepest roster at his disposal in 16 years. That much the Spurs could control.
Now stuck in standby mode until the Clippers and Grizzlies are finished, forward Stephen Jackson isn’t worried about what they can’t.
“I don’t wish it ended, I don’t wish it goes more,” Jackson said. “It’s happening the way God wanted it to happen. I’m here, everyone is healthy, and we’re advancing to the second round. So just let it happen.”