Spurs, Thunder Set To Face Off In Opener
(AP) – Gregg Popovich 1,022, Billy Donovan 0.
That’s the difference in the number of NBA regular-season coaching victories for Popovich, a five-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, and Donovan, who will make his NBA coaching debut for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
Welcome to the league, rookie.
Donovan said he’s excited about the game and respects Popovich, but he is focused on the process more than anything. He said he won’t have any trouble sleeping the night before the opener.
"Eighty-two games is a lot of games," Donovan said Tuesday. "Every game, at that moment in time, is going to be big. Right now, we’re in October, it’s the first game of the year."
He’ll start that process against the Spurs, who have added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to star mainstays Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.
No NBA team has more victories over the last 20 years than the Spurs. Regular season, postseason, doesn’t matter, they’re atop the list.
And now they’re even winning in the offseason.
Getting Aldridge to sign over the summer was a coup for the Spurs, who for whatever reason typically aren’t the team landing the biggest prize on the free-agent market.
So a team that went to the NBA Finals in 2013, won the title in 2014 and posted 55 wins a season ago now looks even better, maybe better than ever.
"Over the years we’ve missed out on a bunch of people," Duncan said. "It’s kind of the first time that we’ve gotten a guy of this caliber. I was floored by it."
The Thunder have their own addition – sort of – with Kevin Durant back after breaking his right foot last season and playing just 27 games. Donovan said Durant has no minutes restrictions, but the bigger concern is long-term fatigue, and that might lead to fewer minutes for Durant, who has ranked among the league leaders in minutes for most of his career.
"I think the biggest thing for all the guys is helping all those guys be efficient," Donovan said. "Clearly, I think when you absorb so many minutes, fatigue can become a real factor and become a real issue."
Durant can become a free agent after next season, leaving precious little time to build a relationship with Donovan. It’s off to a good start.
"It’s been fun," Durant said. "I enjoy him. Great basketball mind, but more so, a better person. We’ve hit it off since the beginning. Just excited to play for him."
If the preseason is an indicator, Donovan will be fine. The Thunder went 5-1 and were unbeaten in games Durant and Russell Westbrook played in.
Westbrook, the 2014-15 scoring champion, said Donovan’s no-nonsense style works.
"He keeps it real," he said. "I think he lets you know exactly what’s going on. He doesn’t let nothing slip between the cracks. He makes sure everybody’s aware of what’s going on, whether it’s good things or bad things. Everybody knows, and everybody’s on the same page."
The Western Conference is loaded again, starting with the reigning NBA champion in Golden State. The Thunder missed the playoffs in coach Scott Brooks’ final season despite winning 45 games – the No. 8 seed in the East, Brooklyn, had 38 victories.
But expectations around the Spurs – who lured West away from Indiana while also keeping 2014 Finals MVP Leonard and Ginobili around as part of their big summer – couldn’t be higher, and Aldridge is already buying into San Antonio’s simple but proven way of thinking.
"Guys come in, they work hard, they go home," said Aldridge, an All-Star in each of the last four seasons. "Guys here are focused."
Aldridge also got some preseason exposure to another Spurs tradition – resting players when they need it, with hopes of having them freshest when things matter most. When Aldridge had some tightness in his thigh during camp, Popovich insisted he take the day off.
"He didn’t want to do it," Popovich said. "Well, welcome to the Spurs. Go sit."
San Antonio took two of three meetings last season after beating the Thunder in six games in the 2014 conference finals.
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