The San Antonio Spurs were dealt a big blow on the eve of their only trip to Cleveland to face the defending champions.
Pau Gasol is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery Friday to repair a fractured bone in his left (non-shooting) hand.
Gasol broke the hand during warm-ups before Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets and no timeline was given for his return. It’s a big blow to a team that enters Saturday at 33-9, the second-best record in the NBA. Gasol, a six-time All-Star, is averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds in his first season in San Antonio.
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“We will miss Pau, but we have players here that are ready and waiting to show what they can do,” Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. “Now it looks like they will get that chance.”
David Lee is expected to remain the starter in place of Gasol. He was the emergency starter against the Nuggets on Thursday and finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
Lee, 33, has revived his career a bit this season with the Spurs. He is averaging 6.5 points and 5.2 rebounds while appearing in all but one game.
“It sucks that injuries are part of the game, because Pau is a guy who prepares well and brings his hard hat every day,” Lee told the San Antonio Express-News. “Not a guy we want to be missing, but we’ll roll with the punches.”
Gasol isn’t the only wounded Spur. Tony Parker missed Thursday’s game with a sore ankle, but coach Gregg Popovich believes Parker will play against the Cavs. He is officially listed as questionable.
The Spurs will face a Cavs team trying to reclaim its rhythm after a disappointing West Coast trip. Upon returning home, coach Tyronn Lue showed the players clips of how they play when they’re moving the ball. They responded with 19 3-pointers and 29 assists, two shy of their season high, in Thursday’s lopsided win over the Phoenix Suns.
Kevin Love missed Thursday’s win with a sore back and remains questionable for Saturday. But James Jones scored 14 points in place of Love, Iman Shumpert is averaging 16 points and shooting 61 percent from 3-point range in three games since moving into the starting lineup, and Kyle Korver continues to get more comfortable in his role with the Cavs’ second unit.
Doing it against the Suns, however, isn’t quite the same as doing it against the Spurs. San Antonio is second in the league in points allowed (98.5) and one of only three teams in the league allowing fewer than 100 points per game. LeBron James praised Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as “the greatest coach of all time.”
“A guy that’s been able to do what he’s done in an era of basketball where it’s changed so much and he’s been able to have a growth mindset and be able to change with the game,” James said.
“It went from a league where every time you bring the ball down: throw it to the big. Then it goes to every time down: pick-and-roll. And then it goes to like, every time down: shoot a 3. And Pop has been able to adjust every single time and still, for some odd reason, keep those guys under the radar. I don’t understand that.”