While the San Antonio Spurs already have their share of stars, coach Gregg Popovich declared the arrival of another following his team’s opening night defeat.
Coming off one of the best performance of his career, Kawhi Leonard will try to help the Spurs bounce back Friday night when they seek a 13th straight home win over the Brooklyn Nets.
San Antonio still has Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and added All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason, but Leonard stole the show with a career-high 32 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in Wednesday’s 112-106 loss at Oklahoma City.
Leonard first grabbed the national spotlight in the 2014 NBA Finals when he earned MVP honors while leading the Spurs to a five-game series win over Miami. He then averaged a career-best 16.5 points and also won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2014-15.
Still, Popovich believes we haven’t seen the best of the forward because injuries have limited him to 66 games or fewer in each of his first four seasons.
"He’s a confident player now and has worked on his game diligently and really it’s the first year he’s been whole from the very beginning," Popovich said. "He wasn’t hurt during the summertime. He wasn’t hurt in preseason. Every year so far, that’s been his situation. He’s arrived.”
Despite Leonard’s career night, San Antonio couldn’t hold on to a seven-point advantage while allowing the Thunder to score 33 in the fourth quarter. The team’s other four starters, Parker, Danny Green, Duncan and Aldridge, combined for 33 points on 14-of-40 shooting.
”A couple of defensive mistakes, a couple of offensive plays where we were impatient," Popovich said. "We just needed to work together a little bit longer.”
San Antonio hopes to gain some cohesiveness as it tries to win a seventh straight home opener at the AT&T Center, which underwent a $110 million renovation in the offseason.
The Spurs also have won nine consecutive home games overall and 40 of 45 there against the Nets going back to the 2003 NBA Finals. They’ve won by an average of 14.5 points during their 12-game home winning streak in the series.
Parker had 22 points and Leonard and Green scored 21 apiece in a 99-87 win in the most recent meeting in San Antonio last November. Green has averaged 19.3 points while hitting 14 of 22 from 3-point range in his last three against Brooklyn.
The Nets are looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since dropping their first 18 in 2009-10 en route to their worst record in 40 NBA seasons at 12-70.
Brook Lopez started strong with 26 points, while Andrea Bargnani contributed 17 in Wednesday’s 115-100 home loss to Chicago. Starting point guard Jarrett Jack could return Friday after missing the opener due to a hamstring injury.
Brooklyn, 22nd in defensive field-goal percentage (45.6) last season, will have to be better at that end after allowing the Bulls to shoot 53.8 percent and 14 of 28 from 3-point range.
”I understand that we did do some good things," coach Lionel Hollins said. "As I told the team, we have to extend those good things to a longer period of time. Cut down on our mistakes in giving them easy things and make them have to earn everything.”
Mirza Teletovic, who had five points on 2-of-10 shooting Wednesday, totaled 48 points while sinking 9 of 15 from beyond the arc in last season’s series with San Antonio.