Monday, November 17, 2008

SacBee: Kings misfire late again

By Sam Amick

The final minute showed that the Kings' owners aren't the only ones waiting and watching.

As the team's mascot spun the crank on an old-fashioned alarm in the center of the Arco Arena floor on Sunday night, the announced crowd of 11,699 refused to be impressed by a tie score. Most cheered halfheartedly, and few stood, as if the onus of proving one's self was a prerequisite for support.

The Kings' 90-88 loss to San Antonio was far from enough to inspire confidence in the masses or the front office, as the Kings lost a second consecutive home game since co-owner Joe Maloof questioned the job being done by second-year coach Reggie Theus.

More than that, they did it in a fashion that surely will raise eyebrows from within.

Just as Friday's opponent, Phoenix, had been without a two-time MVP (Steve Nash) and a one-time Sixth Man of the Year (Leandro Barbosa), the Spurs were at a similar disadvantage with absences from injured point guard Tony Parker and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Manu Ginobili. The Kings knew the feeling, as two main pieces of their core (Kevin Martin and Francisco García) remained out because of injuries.

And just as defending the three-point line and giving up too many turnovers had been points of emphasis in Maloof's media tour, the Kings finished with 18 giveaways (for 18 points) and allowed the Spurs to hit 9 of 20 from three-point range.

Duncan – so often the reason for open outside looks as the Kings pinched defensively to assist – was just enough in the Spurs' second win in a row. With 15.4 seconds left, he crashed through Kings guard Quincy Douby and hit the 20-point mark on a running right-hander from the left side to put San Antonio ahead by the final margin.

The Kings didn't have a basket in the final 2:30, including their final opportunity when Theus' continuing intent to show confidence in the team's youth didn't pan out again. Douby, who missed an 18-footer at the end of regulation against Phoenix, airballed a three-pointer at the buzzer after coming off a Brad Miller screen atop the key. The Kings airballed their last two attempts, as Miller came up empty with 4.9 seconds left from the right wing.

"On the last play, it was set up," Douby said. "We didn't have a lot of time left, so we needed some screens. I was open. I felt it leave my fingers, and it wasn't a good shot.

"Coach is showing a lot of confidence in me. The one against Phoenix I definitely felt should have gone in. This one, there wasn't a lot of time. I'm just looking forward to the next game."

Rookie Jason Thompson couldn't convert when Theus called his number late, either, as his spin move around Fabricio Oberto in the post and eight-foot attempt fell awry with 32.9 seconds left. Swingman John Salmons had 31 points on 10-of-13 shooting but just two fourth-quarter attempts (both successful). The Kings hit just 5 of 18 shots in the fourth quarter.

The Kings' avoided the Spurs' various traps and defensive roadblocks early to build a 23-15 first-quarter lead.

Salmons' maneuvering led to 10 of his 16 first-half points in the first quarter, and a 15-6 rebounding advantage came mostly because every player in black outside Duncan was being outworked in the paint.

But 10 Kings turnovers by halftime meant the Spurs would recover, and a 6-of-20 shooting effort in the opening period by San Antonio didn't last. Midway through the second quarter, a Duncan chip shot was followed by a Michael Finley three-pointer and layup to give the Spurs a 7-0 run and their first lead, 34-33. An off-target Spencer Hawes hadn't helped matters, as he missed all three of his second-quarter shots and was 1 of 5 for the half. The Spurs – whose 15 first-quarter points were a season low for a Kings opponent in one period – led 43-42 at halftime.

It appears the Kings will have to continue without Martin and García for the immediate future. While Martin (sprained left ankle) had been hopeful of playing on the two-game trip Tuesday in Memphiscq and Wednesday in New Orleans, that does not appear likely. García, whose strained right calf has been far slower to respond than originally expected, has yet to practice or run consistently. His conditioning will be an issue as well, as he has been out of commission since Oct. 18.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Express News: Bonner's 3-pointers spark Spurs' decisive late charge

By Mike Monroe - Express-News

Don’t ask Spurs coach Gregg Popovich what prompted him to give forward Matt Bonner a healthy dose of playing time in Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets at the AT&T Center after keeping him chained to the bench in the previous two games.

Popovich isn’t in the habit of explaining his personnel decisions.

After his most productive game of the season, though, Bonner is apt to get another early call in Sunday’s game at Sacramento.

Bonner played 19 minutes and 37 seconds in the Spurs’ dramatic, 77-75 victory over the Rockets, and that included some key time in the fourth period. he made two 3-pointers in the final 4:20, when the Spurs reeled off 12 unanswered points to complete a comeback from a 14-point deficit for just their second home win of the season.

“Matt did a fine job,” Popovich said. “He was aggressive offensively. He focused well on defense and helped us win the basketball game.”

Mahinmi to Austin: The Spurs finally got one of their injured players cleared to begin five-on-five drills, but help for their shorthanded roster remains a few weeks away.

Power forward-center Ian Mahinmi has been assigned to the Spurs’ NBA Development League team, the Austin Toros. The right ankle he sprained in September is finally healed to the point he can begin contact drills.

Mahinmi will use his time with the Toros to get in basketball condition and complete the rehabilitation process on his ankle.

The Toros are in training camp, undergoing two-a-day drills.

“He’s going to practice once, instead of twice a day,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “and scrimmaging on a limited basis to begin with. But at least he’s out on the court, doing something.”

“He’s got to get in shape and get his rhythm back. He’s going to play, and that’s better than having him sit on the bench up here, that’s for sure.”

There is no timetable for Mahinmi’s potential return to the Spurs roster.

The 22-year-old big man from France split time during his rookie season between San Antonio and Austin, but spent the bulk of the season in the D-League. He averaged 16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 46 games with the Toros in 2008.

Laugh lines: Asked what former Spur Brent Barry brought to the Rockets when he signed a free agent contract with them this summer, Rockets All-Star Tracy McGrady didn’t hesitate before blurting, “Humor. A lot of humor. He keeps us laughing.”

Barry was suited up for Friday’s game, but Adelman said he was unlikely to play because of a sprained right thumb.

Barry wasn’t even able to be a stand-up comic Friday because of a touch of laryngitis.

McGrady said Barry’s real value to the Rockets has been his leadership.

“He’s a guy who knows the game,” he said, “and he’s been on championship teams. He knows where the ins and outs are.”

Express News: Late surge propels Spurs past Rockets

By Mike Monroe - Express-News

Spurs rookie George Hill just enjoyed the game of his fledgling NBA life.

He had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in a 77-75 comeback victory over the Houston Rockets, who came into the AT&T Center on Friday night with the best record in the Southwest Division.

Then Hill, suddenly a starter by default, got to his locker after a long shower and discovered his first NBA paycheck.

Peeking inside the envelope, he let out a low whistle.

“We get one of these every two weeks, Roger?” he asked teammate Roger Mason Jr.

“Yes, George,” Mason said, “and you earned that check tonight.”

Payday rarely has felt better for the Spurs (3-5), who finished the game with 12 unanswered points. The Rockets (5-4) didn’t score in the final 4:43.

Without a basket through the first 4:40 of the fourth quarter, they had trailed the Rockets by 14 with 7:37 remaining. But defensive effort reminiscent of their championship runs kept them from falling farther behind. Then, timely 3-point shooting got them to a crunch time situation in which they out-executed the Rockets at both ends of the floor.

Tim Duncan’s driving hook shot with 59.7 seconds remaining gave the Spurs their first lead of the second half, 76-75, and they followed with three defensive stops to ice the game.

Houston’s Ron Artest launched a 3-point attempt just before the final buzzer, and when it skidded off the back rim, the Spurs raced off the court in celebration mode endorsed by their head coach.

“I was really impressed with the 48-minute effort the guys made,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “especially being down 14 and not really caring who’s playing the game, and trying to give their best. So they deserve to enjoy themselves tonight.”

The Spurs came into the game averaging only 94.3 points per game, and Popovich had no  idea where he might find additional offense.

Hill was the unlikely source of enough offense to augment Duncan’s steady production.

Learning on the fly, the rookie on three occasions took the ball straight at 7-foot-6 Rockets center Yao Ming, scoring over a defensive presence he said he dared not fear.

“You can’t be scared of nobody,” Hill said. “He’s a great player, but you have to play. That’s the only way I can make something happen, because he’s going to be there all night.”

Popovich noticed.

“What’s impressive about George is he’s starting to figure out how to be aggressive on a consistent basis and he’s learning a new position,” Popovich said. “For a rookie to be doing that under these circumstances is pretty impressive. He’s got a great demeanor about him and a fine mental toughness.”

The Spurs got another offensive jolt from unexpected territory. Forward Matt Bonner, who had not played a minute in the previous two games, got an early call from Popovich on Friday. He responded with 11 points in 19 minutes, 37 seconds, making three of four 3-point shots.

Mason’s defensive work on Houston’s Tracy McGrady in the final four minutes limited the Rockets’ top scorer to two shots, both of them well contested.

“No one person is going to stop a guy like T-Mac.” Mason said. “We all dug in, had great help-side defense and as a team we defended him.”

It was Duncan who had the biggest defensive play of the game, though. With 1.9 seconds remaining, his block of Aaron Brooks’ short runner on the left baseline preserved the Spurs’ lead. Mason tracked down the loose ball before it went out of bounds, forcing Brooks to foul him.

“This win is huge,” Mason said. “We felt like we gave one away in Milwaukee. Today we dug in. We missed some shots, but this team is not all about offense. It’s about our defense, getting stops and big blocked shots like Tim did, and getting loose balls and rebounds.

“Today, we scrapped for this win.”

And earned their paychecks.

Houston Chronicle: Victory slips out of hand

Duncan’s block preserves San Antonio’s comeback

SAN ANTONIO — Aaron Brooks saw a clear path to the rim and took off with the go-ahead basket and the rim in his sights.

The Rockets had blown every bit of a 14-point fourth- quarter lead with a dramatic collapse in the final minutes against a San Antonio Spurs team playing without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But in the final seconds, Brooks — playing with Rafer Alston serving the first game of his two-game suspension — had one more chance to save the Rockets before their collapse was complete.

There is, however, one Spur with all those championship rings still around. So with Brooks in full flight, Tim Duncan, whose drive had put the Spurs in front for their first lead of the second half, swatted away Brooks’ last-gasp layup with 1.9 seconds remaining, nailing down a 77-75 Spurs win Friday night to complete the Rockets’ longest road trip of the season with the worst of their three losses.

The Rockets had led by 10 with 4½ minutes left. They did not score again, missing all seven of their remaining shots in the Spurs’ 12-0 run to the win.

“We did not do anything in the fourth quarter offensively,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We turned it over. We got drives to the basket we missed. They tightened their defense. We just didn’t execute.”

The Rockets did get one more shot at the win. After Spurs guard Roger Mason made one free throw with 1.8 seconds left, the Rockets set up Ron Artest a few feet beyond the 3-point arc. Artest had come back from his shooting slump, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

His line drive clanged away at the buzzer, but even with the Rockets going scoreless for nearly five minutes and coming seven points shy of the fewest they had scored in the season’s first eight games, their defense down the stretch might have been worse than their offense.

On the offensive end, they at least had a chance. Defensively, they broke down completely.

“We didn’t play any defense,” said Tracy McGrady, who made just two of 12 shots. “We were struggling offensively. One thing you can’t do is struggle defensively. They got to the basket a couple times, got easy layups, got a wide-open 3. We just broke down defensively.”

In the final 4:20, Rockets forward Carl Landry twice left Matt Bonner open for 3-pointers.

Point guard George Hill put in a layup. Duncan hit his runner over Yao Ming to give the Spurs their first lead since the first half with 59.7 seconds left, completing an 11-0 run in which the Spurs scored on five consecutive possessions, never taking anything but a layup, a free throw or wide-open 3-pointers.

“That’s what I told them afterwards,” Adelman said. “No matter what we’re doing offensively, you’ve got to continue to make stops. If you keep defending, it’s hard for them to catch up.”

Bonner hit his two 3-pointers when Landry stepped away from him to follow the point guard, rather than cut off the ball-handler and return to his man.

“If he makes the point guard veer out, he’s only two or three steps away from his guy,” Adelman said. “He showed flat both times and couldn’t get back in time.”

The Rockets, however, had their chances on the other end.

With the Spurs within 75-74 after Bonner’s second 3-pointer of the run, the Rockets stood around until McGrady clanged a jumper from 19 feet.

Duncan put the Spurs in front, and again, the Rockets did little until McGrady put up a shot, this time missing a runner in the lane with 46.8 seconds left.

The Rockets finally got a stop when Duncan, who had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, went back to the same drive with which he put San Antonio in front, but missed with 20.9 seconds left.

Hill fouled Brooks to stop the clock, but the Rockets set up a play in which Brooks was open in the corner and took off for the rim.

“I saw him (Duncan), but I didn’t think he was going to get there,” Brooks, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, said. “He made a great play and blocked the shot.

“They came down and made some big 3s and got some big layups. Offensively, we didn’t answer. It was a bad loss.”

With the Brandon Roy game-winner in Portland to start the trip and with a blowout loss to the Lakers in the middle, there were other tough losses. This “bad loss,” however, was the worst, taking a solid win and turning it into a failure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yahoo: Spurs vs. Rockets Preview

Game info: 8:30 pm EST Fri Nov 14, 2008 TV: SS
By Dan Pieringer

The offseason acquisition of Ron Artest gave the Houston Rockets a “Big Three” they hoped could contend with that of the San Antonio Spurs.

As the Southwest Division rivals head into their first meeting of the season, however, Houston’s trio clearly has the advantage over San Antonio’s injury-plagued nucleus.

Artest, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming look to help the Rockets end a five-game road trip successfully on Friday night when they meet a Spurs team still trying to overcome the absences of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Houston acquired Artest in the offseason, hoping the volatile forward could help bolster the team’s defense and provide a third scoring option.

The transition hasn’t been entirely smooth for the Rockets (5-3), but they’re optimistic after Wednesday’s 94-82 victory over Phoenix. Though Artest shot 1-of-12 from the field, McGrady had 27 points and Yao added 17 and 15 rebounds as Houston bounced back from an embarrassing 111-82 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

“It’s a terrific win for us,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We stormed back and really controlled the tempo well the whole game and made shots. We moved the ball better, we got back defensively.”

While the Rockets are encouraged, the Spurs (2-5) can’t say the same after an 82-78 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday continued their worst start since they opened 2-13 in 1996-97.

“If we can hold somebody to 82 points, I’m thrilled. I’m jumping up and down,” said defensive-minded Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “But we’re a little challenged offensively right now.”

That’s because San Antonio’s playing without two of its top three players in Ginobili and Parker, who have helped lead the Spurs to three NBA titles in the last six years.

Ginobili hasn’t played this season because he’s still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and Parker will be sidelined about a month after spraining his left ankle in a loss to Miami last Friday.

Tim Duncan, the only healthy member of San Antonio’s vaunted trio, continues to deliver. He had 24 points on Wednesday, including 14 of the Spurs’ 19 points in the fourth quarter, and is averaging 25.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

But the two-time MVP and 10-time All-Star can’t carry the team by himself.

“The whole thing is frustrating, however you want to look at it,” he said.

Decimated by injuries, the Spurs have turned to two relative no-names to start in the backcourt. Point guard George Hill, the 26th overall pick in June’s draft, has totaled 16 points and 6-for-15 shooting in his first two career starts.

“Any time you come in and you have a player like Tony go down, it’s always different, you can’t be a Tony Parker, but I think it’s just staying focused and doing what got me here,” Hill said.

Meanwhile, Roger Mason Jr., who’s made three straight starts at shooting guard, has averaged 13.9 points in his first seven games for the Spurs.

“He’s been of paramount importance to us because he’s really been a scorer for us,” Popovich said. “I think when we get healthy, his real value will show.”

The home team won each game as the Spurs and Rockets split their four-game series last season. Duncan averaged 19.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, while San Antonio held McGrady to 11.3 points per game and 27.1 percent (13-for-48) shooting from the field in three games.



G-F Tracy McGrady scored 22 points in second half en route to a game-high 27 on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor. McGrady entered the night having scored a total of five points in his last two games, shooting 1-of-16. ... Houston PGs Rafer Alston and Aaron Brooks combined for 34 points on 15-of-24 shooting, with four assists, four rebounds and just one turnover.


The San Antonio Spurs suffered another setback at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, and now have fallen to 8-11 against Milwaukee in the past nine-plus seasons. The Spurs have a .714 winning percentage against other teams in the league during that stretch. ? The Spurs allowed 31 points in the first half and 15 in the first quarter, both season lows, but still could not pull out a victory after a season-low 78 points. ... The four starters for the Spurs who joined F-C Tim Duncan on the floor Wednesday combined for 14 points.

Team Stat Leaders

Tracy McGrady Hou 17.8
Tony Parker SA 27.4

Yao Ming Hou 9.9
Tim Duncan SA 10.3

Tracy McGrady Hou 4.9
Tony Parker SA 5.8

Express News: Spurs' Close Losses Becoming Trend

By Jeff McDonald

For several minutes after the Spurs' 82-78 loss Wednesday night in Milwaukee, Tim Duncan sat in stone silence at his locker, staring at the wall on the other side of the visitor's locker room.

The Spurs had soundly blown an 11-point lead in the final 13 minutes, giving up a 21-2 run that ultimately gave the game to the Bucks — and gave rise to an all-too-familiar sinking feeling.

Three of the Spurs' five losses this season have come by five points or less, a spate of close-but-no-cigar games that players are doing their best to shrug off.

“There's no time to sit and sulk about it,” Duncan said. “We've dug ourselves a hole, and every game counts right now.”

Two of the Spurs' losses weren't close — by 17 to Dallas and 16 to Miami, the night Parker went down. In the other three, the Spurs were in position to win or tie in the closing seconds.

In a five-point loss to Phoenix in the season opener, Tony Parker and Duncan both missed 3-pointers in the final minute that would have tied it. In a one-point loss at Portland, Michael Finley had a chance to win it with a clean look at a short jumper as time expired.

Then came the latest defeat in Milwaukee. After the Spurs had squandered their lead, they rallied. Duncan had a chance to tie the game with five seconds to go, but missed a short jump hook.

With Parker and Manu Ginobili both out with ankle injuries, victories will be precious for the next several weeks. They can't help but feel like they've squandered a handful of prime opportunities already.

“Even with those guys out, we feel like we've got a good team,” guard Roger Mason Jr. said. “I think if we can learn from these situations, we'll be good. If we let these situations go by and don't take anything from them, then it's doubly bad.”

Tolliver time: For the time being, it appears rookie Anthony Tolliver has supplanted Matt Bonner in the Spurs' rotation.

Tolliver, a 6-foot-9 forward-center from Creighton, has logged at least 20 minutes in each of the past three games. Bonner, who started three of the first four games, did not play against Milwaukee after logging a combined 42 seconds in the two previous games.

Though only 4 of 18 from 3-point range in that span, Tolliver has averaged 7.3 points and infused the Spurs' second unit with some much needed athleticism.

“I consider myself a hard worker,” Tolliver said. “To get on the court, I need to bring energy. That's what I've been doing, and they've rewarded me for it.”

Express News: Barry Recalls Final Shot In S.A.

By Mike Monroe

The last shot Brent Barry hoisted at the AT&T Center was no ordinary jumper.

What had the potential to be the biggest play of his four-year Spurs career instead became a nightmare that haunted Spurs fans for weeks.

Tonight, Barry returns to the scene of what the NBA admitted was a basketball crime, but this time in a Houston Rockets uniform. The Southwest Division-leading Rockets are to meet the Spurs at the AT&T Center for the first time since Barry signed a free-agent contract with them in July.

Through Houston's first eight games, the 36-year-old veteran has been in Rockets coach Rick Adelman's regular playing rotation, averaging 21 minutes a game on a team expected to challenge for the Western Conference title.

Barry may not be available for tonight's return to the AT&T Center, though. A sprained right thumb, suffered in the Rockets' Wednesday night victory over the

Phoenix Suns, may keep him on the sidelines. X-rays taken Wednesday were negative, but Barry said the thumb was swollen and sore on Thursday.

Regardless of his playing status, Barry knows memories will come flooding back when he walks in the Spurs' home arena.

“I've played on several teams in my career,” said Barry, now with his fourth NBA team, “and I've had the opportunity to return to places I had played for a few seasons, and always the first time you go back to that building, there is a different, strange feeling. Certainly, this arena holds a lot more favorable memories than any other. Even flying in (Thursday) afternoon, and being on a team plane that wasn't the Spurs' plane was interesting.”

His final AT&T Center memory, though, is one he would rather forget.

With the Spurs trailing the Los Angeles Lakers by two points in Game 4 of the 2008 Western Conference Finals, and with just 2.1 seconds remaining, it was Barry who freed himself for an in-bounds pass from Robert Horry.

As he wheeled for a shot from the 3-point line, Barry was jolted by Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, who knocked him off-balance. Falling to his right, Barry put up an awkward shot that could have given the Spurs a one-point victory that would have tied the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Barry's shot never had a chance. When no foul was called, the Lakers sprinted off the court with a 3-1 lead, certain they could close out the series at home in Game 5.

Spurs fans were outraged, and the next day, the NBA reviewed the play and admitted the referees had missed Fisher's obvious foul.

Barry's reaction to the NBA's admission of referee failure was the most memorable quote of the Spurs' playoff run: “I've got Doc Brown out front with the DeLorean,” he said before Game 5 at Staples Center, recalling the 'Back to the Future' film series about a scientist who turns an automobile into a time machine. “We're going to fire up the flux capacitors, go back in time and shoot a couple of free throws.”

Instead, the Spurs have been caught in a present tense that has been a whirlpool of negative feedback: They lost Game 5, Barry opted to become a Rocket, All-Star shooting guard Manu Ginobili's Olympic injury required surgery in September, and now All-Star point guard Tony Parker is out four weeks with a sprained ankle.

Since Barry's Game 4 miss, the Spurs have gone 2-6.

“Who knows what could have transpired,” Barry said of the foul that never was called.

Barry insists he and his teammates put the non-call behind them, even when the mistake was acknowledged.

“The game is the game,” he said, “and it was over and done with. We all just tried to move on and get ready for next game we were about to play.”

Tonight, the next game is Spurs vs. Rockets. It will be played, even if Barry isn't in uniform.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 Spurs' Ginobili 'getting better every day'

Finally, some good news for the depleted, struggling Spurs: Manu Ginobili is traveling with the team and progressing well -- perhaps ahead of schedule -- in his recovery from offseason ankle surgery, according to the San Antonio Express-News:
"I'm getting better every day," said Ginobili, who led the Spurs in scoring at 19.5 points per game last season. "But I still haven't practiced with the team or anything like that."

His rehab has progressed without setback. He can now plant and cut on the repaired ankle. The next stage will be to get him involved in some one-on-one and two-on-two drills.

After that comes conditioning work.

Officially, the timetable for Ginobili's return remains mid-December, with the hope he might be able to play earlier.

Asked Wednesday if there is a chance Ginobili might be able to suit up before the end of the month, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not say yes. But he also did not say no.

"I don't want to paint myself into a corner," Popovich said. "When he's ready, he'll play. That's the best way to put it."

RealGM: Steph Eyes Spot With Spurs

If the New York Knicks part ways with Stephon Marbury, Marbury said that the San Antonio Spurs would be at the top of his list of preferred destinations, the New York Post is reporting.

"Who wouldn't want to play for San Antonio?" Marbury told The Post last night. "To play with Tim Duncan, who would complain about that? That's a great organization, they win championships. They have a nice system and I like (Gregg) Popovich as coach. I can play 1 or the 2. If I was a free agent, yeah."

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has said he may look for a point guard after losing Tony Parker for a month.

Oh, God no.

I've heard of desperate times somehow relating to desperate measures, but I'm pretty sure Tim got his fill of playing with Marbury in Athens. And we all remember how that turned out.

FoxSports: NBA's Most Dominant Force? Injuries

Our next turn takes us to San Antonio, where losing two of the league's best players happens.

The proud Spurs began this season without marvelous Argentine two-guard Manu Ginobili, whose ankle buckled during an Olympic skirmish with Team USA. San Antonio promptly lost four of its first five games, and the only triumph required a 55-point, double-overtime effort against from point guard Tony Parker against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Parker encountered a high ankle sprain of his very own in the next game.

So the Spurs, who were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday and are registered at 2-5, will rely on Tim Duncan and spot-up shooters to keep their chins above Western water.

Unfortunately, the defense that has helped define San Antonio has been as untidy as Coach Gregg Popovich's beard. Through seven games, the Spurs were 22nd in field-goal percentage defense. And now that Parker and Ginobili are temporary goners (Parker for maybe 2-3 more weeks and Manu until mid-December), the Spurs have nobody with the off-the-dribble shake to break down defenses and find those stand-still jump shooters.

Expect more touches than ever for Duncan, whose ability to inspire double-team tactics should lead to more pristine looks for welcome newcomer Mason (14 points per game).

With 75 more games to play, it seems silly to dismiss the Spurs. But with the stunt doubles at Duncan's side, staying alive in the West may depend on the training room and the ARP machine.

NY Daily News: Spurs interested in Eddy Curry

CURRY COOKING: Eddy Curry met briefly with his agent, Leon Rose, before last night's game. Curry has been sidelined since the second game of the season with a bruised right knee. He is expected to be out another two weeks.

D'Antoni had removed Curry from the rotation before the Knick season opener.
There is interest in the center from the Spurs and Heat. Miami may be willing to trade D'Antoni favorite Shawn Marion, but a potential deal with Curry is complicated because their salaries don't match.

Express News: Hill and Mason find rhythm in Spurs' backcourt

By Colin Fly

MILWAUKEE — San Antonio's new starting backcourt of George Hill and Roger Mason Jr. sounds more like a pair of architects or investment bankers.

Actually, that's half true.

Mason is an avid reader of Architectural Digest magazine, and studied the subject while at the University of Virginia.

He even used to sneak into homes in Washington, D.C. with his brother, Frank, when he was younger.

"We probably weren't supposed to," Mason said.

Now Frank is the investment banker, and Mason is building a new future as a scorer with the Spurs missing superstars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili due to injuries.

"My career has been windy," Mason said Wednesday night before San Antonio's 82-78 loss at Milwaukee. "Last year was really my first opportunity. I'd been in the league for three years, but I never averaged more than 8 minutes a game."

Then Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas got hurt, and Mason, who also spent time playing in Europe and Israel while rehabbing from major shoulder surgery, stepped in and averaged 9.1 points per game for Washington before signing with the Spurs in the offseason.

"It's one thing to get an opportunity, it's another thing to make the most of it," Mason said.

He's getting a bigger chance now. Parker will miss about a month due to a moderate left ankle sprain, and Ginobili hasn't played this season and isn't scheduled to be back from left ankle surgery until December.

"I was just getting used to Tony, and he gets so much attention, so it's pretty easy to play off him," Mason said. "Now he's out, so I've got to get used to playing with George a little bit more."

San Antonio used the 26th pick in this year's draft to take Hill, and while he's learning on the fly, he's also got a style all his own. He jams to Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" with his cousins to the video game "Rock Band" — not "Guitar Hero: World Tour" like Kobe Bryant has appeared in commercials for — and he's almost always the drummer.

"I like to play Rock Band — a lot," Hill said.

He's finding his rhythm on the court, too, after three seasons at IUPUI.

"Any time you come in and you have a player like Tony go down, it's always different, you can't be a Tony Parker, but I think it's just staying focused and doing what got me here," Hill said. "The only thing I think I want to accomplish is giving my team the best chance to win games, and I think that's what I'm doing right now."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Hill is taking advantage of his opportunity and that Mason is even more vital than his current average of 15.2 points per game.

"He's been of paramount importance to us because he's really been a scorer for us," Popovich said. "I think when we get healthy, his real value will show. It'll make us a pretty deep team I think. But at this point, he's saving us in certain situations — even games we lost — we would have been in worse shape without his contributions."

Popovich also said he's having fun teaching the younger players on his roster who have been forced to play important roles.

"It's like coaching Tony all over again to coach George Hill," Popovich said. "It always is fun because you get to go back and teach things that maybe you haven't had to teach in a while because that happened years ago. So starting at the beginning with some guys is a lot of fun."

Mason said Hill won't be another Parker, who gets his share of headlines off the court for his marriage to actress Eva Longoria.

"The one before him got the movie star girlfriend, then wife," Mason said. "Hopefully he's not too concerned about that."

The thing is Hill — who has a girlfriend — doesn't have to be like Parker, because in San Antonio's system, it's all about playing an assigned role and feeding Tim Duncan.

"They've been built around the Big Three — Tony, Manu and Tim," Mason said. "They get guys that not only can play basketball, but are high character guys, too."

Express News: Spurs fall short again

MILWAUKEE — If Gregg Popovich had been awarded one wish walking into the Bradley Center on Wednesday night, it would have been this:

For the Spurs to play defense as well and as hard as they had the night before against New York.

If Popovich had been awarded a second wish upon leaving the Bradley Center some hours later, it would have been this: Eighty-three points.

That's all it would have taken.

One wish granted, one wish denied, the Spurs left Milwaukee on the wrong end of an 82-78 tally against the Bucks, their bid for the season's first winning streak rebuffed by one clank-filled stretch of the fourth quarter.

“If we can hold a team to 82 points, I'm thrilled, I'm jumping up and down,” Popovich said. “We ought to be able to win that basketball game.”

Richard Jefferson scored 19 points to lead a balanced list of five players in double figures for the Bucks, who overcame a nearly game-long deficit to break their three-game losing streak.

The Bucks outscored the Spurs 14-2 to start the fourth quarter, transforming what had once been a 13-point Spurs lead into a narrow Milwaukee victory.

The Spurs had a chance to tie with five seconds left, but Tim Duncan's short hook missed.

At 2-5, this is the Spurs' worst start since going 2-13 to open the 1996-97 campaign. Wednesday's loss marked their third of the season by five points or fewer.

“The whole thing is frustrating now matter how you look at it,” said Duncan, who led the Spurs with 24 points.

Less than 24 hours removed from a hard-earned 92-80 victory over New York, accomplished with injured guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili inactive, the Spurs ran headlong into a reality check in Milwaukee.

For the second game in a row, the Spurs held an opponent to a season scoring low. This time, they couldn't score enough for it to matter.

“We're a little challenged offensively right now,” Popovich said.

This is what life will look like for the Spurs with two of their three top scorers sidelined. They will have to fight and claw and scratch and defend, defend, defend just to stay in games.

And sometimes, perhaps often, it won't be enough.

Up until the fourth quarter, Wednesday appeared to be one of those nights when it would be enough.

The defensive energy the Spurs used to suffocate the Knicks the night before carried over, as the Bucks — playing their fifth game without leading scorer Michael Redd — shot below 38.6 percent for the first three quarters.

The Spurs did not trail from the 10:23 mark of the first quarter until the 8:25 mark of the fourth, when Jefferson swished a 19-footer to put Milwaukee ahead 63-61.

“San Antonio isn't at full strength, but they're a very disciplined team,” Jefferson said. “They're going to win a lot of games at half strength.”

No matter how hard the Spurs might have wished it, this wasn't destined to be one of them.

Ahead by 12 points at the half, and by six entering the fourth quarter, the Spurs suddenly went cold from the field. And the Bucks suddenly couldn't miss.

Milwaukee's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a rookie from UCLA making his first career start, had eight points in the fourth quarter, while Ramon Sessions had nine.

When Andrew Bogut dunked home Sessions' lone fourth-quarter miss with 5:24 to go, it gave Milwaukee a 69-61 lead.

That cued Duncan, who totaled 14 of his points in the game's final 41/2 minutes to help keep the Spurs in wishing distance. Michael Finley, who finished with a season-high 19 points, hit a 3-pointer with 12.3 seconds left to pull the Spurs within one.

Sessions missed the second of two free throws at the other end, giving Spurs a shot to tie. But Duncan's hook was short, and Jefferson hit two clinching foul shots at the other end.

“The bottom line is we made enough plays to win the game,” Duncan said. “We just didn't do it in time.”

Yet another case of too little, too late. It was, however, encouraging to see the Spurs come out strong for once.

For the first time this season, the Spurs found a comfort zone, then they let themselves fall asleep in it. This is one of those lessons that seems to be learned every season.

Still, every win without Parker and Ginobili is crucial, and the Spurs should've had that one in their back pocket.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Express News: Spurs' life Without Parker

The Spurs played their first game without Tony Parker on Tuesday, but it won’t be their last. Here’s a look at the Spurs’ schedule the next four weeks, the length of time Parker is expected to miss with a left ankle injury.

Today at Bucks: Tough turnaround after facing running team night before.

Friday vs. Rockets: Unlike Spurs’ Big Three, Rockets’ Big Three are all healthy.

Sunday at Kings: Catching them at right time — Kevin Martin just got hurt.

Monday at Clippers: No time to rest — Clippers now have Baron Davis and Marcus Camby.

Nov. 19 vs. Nuggets: Spurs don’t have Parker, but Denver has Chauncey Billups.

Nov. 21 vs. Jazz: Utah went 5-1 without Deron Williams, who made debut Tuesday.

Nov. 24 at Grizzlies: Memphis boasts Rudy Gay and a perfect record at home.

Nov. 26 vs. Bulls: Fans miss out on chance to see top pick Derrick Rose face Parker.

Nov. 28 vs. Grizzlies: Memphis is only 1-5 on road this season.

Nov. 29 at Rockets: No time to rest before facing Ron Artest, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.

Dec. 2 at Warriors: Golden State’s Monta Ellis out at least another month.

Dec. 3 at Nuggets: Altitude won’t be fun after playing previous night.

Express News: Coach Tim Making Presence Felt

By Mike Finger

In a few years, Jacque Vaughn will be looking for work as an NBA coach. The competition among cerebral, well-liked former players will be fierce and the openings will be in short supply, but Vaughn already is pretty sure he won't have to worry about beating out one potential applicant.

“Timmy (Duncan) has no chance,” Vaughn said. “He doesn't have nearly enough patience for it.”

If he ever had the patience to begin with, nights like Tuesday ensure it won't last long. As the Spurs and their guests spent much of the evening trying to prove that a sexual harassment trial wasn't necessarily the ugliest chapter in New York Knicks history, Duncan watched a patched-together crew of no-name rookies and creaky-kneed old-timers make the wrong cuts, miss the open man and fumble away entry passes.

And then?

Coach Tim made a few adjustments.

Gregg Popovich did his share of tinkering, too, but even he admitted he can't do as much with his words as Duncan can. Popovich said Duncan is “the biggest reason we've got a comfort level out there,” and the fact that the Spurs have any kind of a comfort level at all without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is a story in itself.

But the other news is that as the Spurs have limped to their worst start in the Duncan era — a 1-4 skid they finally ended with a 92-80 victory at the AT&T Center on Tuesday — Duncan has reeled off one of his best stretches as an on-court member of Popovich's staff.

He's taken George Hill aside and reminded him about the importance of moving without the ball. He's been in the ear of Anthony Tolliver and barking orders on defense. He's pointed at Roger Mason Jr. and waved him in the right direction. He's taken control of timeouts, and, on at least one occasion against the Knicks, gathered his teammates around him for extra instruction after Popovich was finished with them.

This is no longer the lead-by-example MVP. This is now the lead-by-telling-you-you'd-better-dang-well-hedge-on-that-next-screen-or-you're-going-to-be-running-extra-wind-sprints Popovich-in-training.

“Five years ago, I don't know if Timmy would have felt comfortable doing that kind of stuff,” said Vaughn, the 11th-year backup point guard who's doing his own share of mentoring in the locker room these days. “Now, with this team, it's kind of a necessity.”

And it's not as though Duncan's teammates are the only ones who are noticing. Before Tuesday's game, when someone asked Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni about the Spurs' early-season struggles, D'Antoni responded by saying, “You know Popovich and Duncan will eventually figure it out,” as if the power forward was as much responsible for coming up with a solution as the head coach.

This seemed perfectly reasonable when talking about the Spurs, but it's still unique. That quote wouldn't have made as much sense, for instance, if another coach had subbed the words “Popovich and Duncan” with “D'Antoni and Marbury.”

Duncan has as much influence on his organization as any player in the league, and while that's not a recent development, the way he's exerted it has evolved. In the preseason, Duncan was a regular fixture in the coaches' huddles at the start of timeouts, and an hour before Tuesday's tipoff, he was conducting an impromptu film session with Mason and Hill in the locker room.

Popovich said it's Duncan's empathy, more than anything else that makes him an effective leader.

“He allows people to feel comfortable,” Popovich said. “He doesn't make them feel foolish.”

Sometimes he toes the line, though. After Hill didn't complete a move to the basket early in Tuesday's game, Duncan scowled and snapped at him. Repeatedly this season, Duncan has told Hill to fake high before cutting low.

Later, after Hill made a cut in the second half, Duncan walked over to him again. And this time, he congratulated his rookie point guard on following instructions.

Hill, who was expecting another lecture, couldn't believe it.

“I didn't even realize I did it,” Hill said. “It just kind of soaked in, I guess.”

Coach Tim would take some satisfaction in that comment, which has implications for Vaughn and his job search, too.

He might end up with some competition yet.

Express News: Spurs break through at home

Mike D’Antoni walked into the AT&T Center for the first time as coach of the New York Knicks on Tuesday morning, and the memories came flooding back.

“Right there,” D’Antoni said, pointing to a spot on the arena floor. “That’s the scene of the disaster.”

Let the record show he was referring to Robert Horry’s infamous hip check of Steve Nash in the 2007 playoffs, back when D’Antoni was coaching the Phoenix Suns. He was not referring to the injury-plagued mess that had become of the Spurs’ November.

For one night, at least, the Spurs were able to remove the caution tape from around their home court. With injured stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in street clothes — and with their team’s best hope for victory supposedly resting with them — the Spurs dug deep to beat the mercurial Knicks 92-80.

Tim Duncan scored 23 points while a pair of former starters — Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen — combined for 27 off the bench, as the Spurs won at home for the first time this season.

The Spurs (2-4) came in reeling from their worst five-game start in 12 seasons and facing up to four more weeks without their high-scoring guards.

They responded as they often have over the past several seasons, winding up their defense and setting it loose on the unsuspecting Knicks.

The Spurs held the Knicks — pinball wizards averaging 102.5 points per game — to their lowest scoring output of the season. New York (4-3) managed to shoot just 38 percent from the floor.

“It was out best defensive game of the year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “and that’s the reason for the win.”

In some ways, Tuesday night was throwback night at the AT&T Center.

Without Parker and Ginobili, the Spurs’ offense looked straight out of 2001: Dump the ball to Duncan and get out the way.

He made 11 of 17 from the field, and dropped in 15 points in the first half.

Finley looked like he was back in Dallas again, finishing with 14 points.

Coming off the bench for the first time in a Spurs’ uniform, Bowen looked like he was back in Miami.

He responded with 13 points and three 3-pointers — including a back-breaker to put the Spurs up 87-75 with 2:50 to play.

Meanwhile, the Spurs’ once-vaunted defense — the foundation of four titles in 11 seasons — made its season debut.

Ahead 67-64 entering the third quarter, the Spurs held New York to just 16 points in the fourth.

“We got stops, and that’s San Antonio basketball,” said Roger Mason Jr., whose team had been giving up more than 105 points per game.

Throwback night, however, only went so far.

With his team playing for the first time since Parker sprained his ankle, Popovich trotted out a lineup he couldn’t have just two seasons ago.

George Hill started in place of Parker, the first Spurs’ rookie to do that since Beno Udrih in 2004-05. Alongside him in the backcourt were a first-year Spur (Mason) and second-year Spur (Ime Udoka).

Hill accomplished his most pressing mission.

He looked like an NBA point guard, finishing with 12 points and infusing the Spurs with some much-needed youthful exuberance.

The Spurs didn’t always play better Tuesday than they had in five previous outings. But, often, they played harder.

Snapshots from the fourth quarter bear that out.

It was Anthony Tolliver skidding across the floor for a loose ball.

It was Bowen sliding in to draw a charge on little Nate Robinson.

It was Finley — never paid for his defense — bodying up Quentin Richardson and forcing him into a traveling violation.

By night’s end, even D’Antoni was having flashbacks.

Some of the Spurs’ faces had changed. But the results looked awfully familiar.

“These guys are just tough,” D’Antoni said. “Been tough. Are tough. Will be tough.”

NYTimes: Knicks Let Spurs Slip Away in the Fourth Quarter

Published: November 11, 2008

SAN ANTONIO — The dictionary does not have an entry or the proper spelling for the word Mike D’Antoni used to describe the horrors he has endured at AT&T Center. When prompted for his memories, he could only muster a nasty shriek: “Auuugghhhh!”

The San Antonio Spurs have that kind of effect on people. They ruined many springs for the Phoenix Suns and were partly responsible for D’Antoni leaving Phoenix for New York.

The Knicks are not the Suns and the Spurs are not exactly the Spurs at the moment, but the outcome Tuesday night was all too familiar — cool efficiency from Tim Duncan, timely shooting from Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen, and a 92-80 victory for San Antonio.

“We just weren’t sharp,” D’Antoni said after the Knicks let a close game slip away in a ghastly fourth quarter. “We had chances.”

This was, in fact, the best chance the Knicks have had in years to beat the Spurs. Their All-Star guards, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker, are out until December because of injuries. Their championship core is aging. They had lost four of their first five games.

But the Spurs ran their offense through Duncan, and he dominated the game without even trying. He finished with a near triple-double: 23 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

“He ain’t getting older, he’s getting better,” Zach Randolph said of Duncan. “He’s a tough player.”

Bowen and Finley, championship veterans who are now coming off the bench, hit critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Spurs (2-4) pulled away.

The Knicks (4-3), carrying the momentum of a three-game winning streak, were still high after Sunday’s victory over Utah. A win here would have cemented their progress. Instead, the Spurs gave D’Antoni nasty flashbacks and probably made him a little wistful for his old roster.

The Knicks converted just 38 percent of their field-goal attempts and are now 0-3 when they fail to score 100 points. They had a 4-point lead in the second quarter and a 6-point lead early in the third, but never found a way to break the game open against the Spurs’ still-stingy defense.

“Once you put them in a hole, they could’ve crumbled a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “But we just couldn’t get a lead, and it’s easier to shoot when you’re up than when you’re down.”

The Knicks fell behind by 7 points in the third quarter, tied the score at 64-64, then disintegrated. Bowen hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, igniting a 14-0 burst that put the game away. The Knicks opened the fourth quarter with five missed shots and three turnovers.

Jamal Crawford led the Knicks with 28 points, but he was held to one field goal by Bowen in the fourth quarter. Randolph was the only other Knicks’ starter to score in double figures, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. But he missed 11 of his 18 field-goal attempts as he tried to match Duncan shot for shot.

So the Knicks wasted a rare chance to beat the Spurs in a rare vulnerable moment and lost to them for the seventh straight time.

At tip-off, the Spurs were nearly unrecognizable, with Roger Mason, Ime Udoka and the rookie George Hill standing alongside Duncan. Coach Gregg Popovich started Udoka over Bowen in attempt to spark the lineup.

Udoka did not make a shot until early in the third quarter, after missing his first eight. Mason hit his first shot in the final minutes of the period. But he finished with 7 points in the fourth.

The Spurs are again looking like a team in its twilight. But then, they are written off nearly every year at this time. D’Antoni knows them too well to believe it.

“If you also look at the banners, every two years they seem to put one up,” he said. “And this is the year that they don’t have one up there. You know that Popovich and Duncan will figure it out. And Parker will eventually get well and so will Ginóbili. And by the end of the year they’ll be there. That’s a sure thing.”


Danilo Gallinari’s back troubles have flared up again, casting doubt on his rookie season. Gallinari stayed in New York to have a magnetic resonance imaging test. Results were not immediately available. “His back just flared up again,” Mike D’Antoni said. “He was making progress, and then one morning he said he couldn’t put his pants on.” Team officials are hopeful that Gallinari can avoid surgery, but they cannot rule it out. “I’m worried about it at this point,” D’Antoni said. ... If there were any lingering doubts that Stephon Marbury has no future with the Knicks, D’Antoni dispelled them Tuesday when he activated Eddy Curry, who has a sore knee, rather than Marbury, to take Gallinari’s roster spot. “I just think it’s better that I’m going to play my guys,” D’Antoni said. “So there’s no reason to change course right now.” ... David Lee has a bone spur on his left ankle, a painful injury that might help explain his slow start to the season. Lee said the pain is manageable and that he does not expect to need surgery. But, he added, “I’m sure it’s not going to be real comfortable at times.” ... Although they are out of the rotation, Marbury and Curry were included on the All-Star ballot, which was released Tuesday. Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph are also listed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MySA: Relatively Good News About Hill's Thumb

By Mike Monroe

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ordinarily, you would not be happy about a medical report that calls a thumb injury a bad sprain, but the Spurs were moderately relieved on Wednesday to discover that rookie point guard George Hill does not have a torn ligament, nor a broken bone, in the left thumb he injured in Tuesday's pre-season game in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"It's a bad sprain but, no ligament damage or bone damage," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reported after a morning practice session at Gund Arena here ." He'll probably miss a couple games. That;s better than a cast and out for six weeks."

Hill injured the thumb late in the first half of the Spurs' 86-64 victory over the Pistons at Van Andel Arena, in Grand Rapids, their first victory in three pre-season games. The Spurs' first-round draft pick had scored eight points and handed out four assists in 16 minutes, 48 seconds of first-half play.

Popovich said Tony Parker, who did not suit up for Tuesday's game because of minor soreness in his left Achilles tendon, will start tonight's game at Gund Arena against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Veteran Jacque Vaughn will back him up, with spot help from both Roger Mason, Jr., and Ime Udoka.

Salim Stoudamire, who has yet to go through a full practice because of a right groin strain, said he feels sound enough to consider asking Popovich to give him a few minutes in tonight's game, as well.

"I'll see how I feel in the morning," he said, "but I'm thinking about asking Coach Popovich to give me a little time."

More good bad news.

Express News: Spurs' Parker Sits Out With Sore Achilles Tendon

By Mike Monroe

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spurs point guard Tony Parker did not suit up for Tuesday’s preseason game at Van Andel Arena because of minor soreness in his left Achilles tendon, but Coach Gregg Popovich called the decision to sit his star point guard strictly precautionary.

“He has a little Achilles thing that is bothering him a little bit,” Popovich said. “Nothing serious, but we’re not taking any chances.

“With (Manu) Ginobili out for a while, we don’t want to lose him, too. If that happened, I wouldn’t even want to go to the games. I’d just go have dinner and check the results in the morning.”

It may also have been Parker’s turn to watch from behind the bench in street clothes. He was the only starter who had played in the first two preseason games.

Tim Duncan, Fabricio Oberto, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen had been held out of one, or the other.

Finley and Roger Mason also were held out of Tuesday’s game so Popovich could get a long look at the three young wing players battling for a roster spot.

The Spurs have carried 20 players since the start of training camp, but Popovich said he likely would make some cuts after the team returns to San Antonio after its game in Cleveland on Thursday.

“I think at the end of these two games we should probably start to trim it down in some way, shape or form,” Popovich said.

Thomas ready: Unless he reinjures the left hamstring that has kept him out of most of the preseason, veteran Kurt Thomas will make his debut for the Spurs in Thursday’s game against the Cavaliers.

“I’m definitely ready to do something besides watch the other guys play,” Thomas said. “I understand a hamstring (strain) is something you just have to be patient with. That’s an injury you really don’t want to rush, but I’m really ready to get away from ‘Brungy.’ That man is serious.”

Strength and conditioning coach Mike ‘Brungy’ Brungardt has been running Thomas and swingman Salim Stoudamire, nursing a right groin strain, through a rigorous conditioning program.

Isn’t it Grand: Popovich so enjoyed his two days in this Western Michigan city he sounded like the president of the local Chamber of Commerce.

“I’d never been to Grand Rapids before,” he said, “but I think it’s a really neat place. It’s beautiful from the hotel, all the hills around, with the colors of the trees.

“It’s just great. Really cool.”

Apparently the injury bug is not content to just leave well enough alone for the Spurs, but at least it doesn't sound like Parker's ailments are too serious. Hopefully this is just the Spurs getting all their bumps outta the way early.

Otherwise, we'll need the Coyote to suit up before too long.

Forum Blue And Gold: Know Your Enemy - The San Antonio Spurs

This is the latest in a series at FB&G that will run through the start of the season, focusing on some of the top teams in the West and maybe a couple from the East. In this installment we’ll touch on one of our biggest rivals over the past decade, the San Antonio Spurs. (Cue the Deathstar music) ~Darius

Last Season Record: 56-26 (tied for 2nd best record in the conference with the Hornets, 3rd seed in the playoffs due to tiebreaker)

Last Playoffs: Lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 5 games

Offensive Rating: 107.2 (15th in the NBA)

Defensive Rating: 101.8 (3rd in the NBA)

As Reed pointed out in his epic “Know Your Enemy”: The Phoenix Suns post, the San Antonio Spurs are our most traditional rival in the last decade. They have the combination of Coach, GM, and players that have posed the biggest challenge to us since Phil Jackson first started (not) pacing (and really, just mostly sitting on) the sidelines and leading the Shaq/Kobe teams to post-season glory. They are a model franchise in the NBA, with 4 Championship rings in the Popovich/Duncan Era and contiue to make trips deep into the playoffs every spring. If there is one team (besides the Lakers) that will be remembered from the immediate post Jordan period of the NBA, it would be the San Antonio Spurs.

Last season was the typical effort from the Spurs. They battled their way to over 50 wins for the ninth(!) consecutive season and advanced deep into the post-season. And, just as in every other one of those stellar campaigns, it all started with Tim Duncan. Duncan continues to be the catalyst for the Spurs, and even though some have argued that he’s lost a step, he’s still one of the elite players in this league, combining fundamental play with exceptional basketball IQ to do what is needed to help lead his team to victories. His tremendous defensive instincts (both in one on one play and in the team structure) powered one of the NBA’s best defenses and helped smother opponents to the tune of 90.6 pts. allowed per game and also placed him on the All-Defensive (2nd) team, a feat he’s accomplished every season that he’s been a pro.

But we all know that Duncan is not alone. He’s flanked by two of the premier players at their respective positions in PG Tony Parker and SG Manu Ginobili. Parker continues to grow as a player and his game is now considered the prototype for an NBA PG. Lightning fast off the dribble and a one man fast break, Parker uses his speed and handle to blow by defenders, get in the lane, and finish amongst the trees. He makes his living off the screen and roll with Duncan, where he’s gained enough confidence in his jumper to be a threat when defenders go under the screen, and can turn the corner like the roadrunner and dash into the lane, setting up himself for the easy two or dishing to a teammate when defenders try to chase him over the top. He shot 49.5% on the season (his lowest in 2 seasons shooting 52% and 54.8% the previous two), which is amazing considering his size and the fact that he is not a natural jumpshooter (but, as I stated before is steady enough). Teaming with Parker in the backcourt is Ginobili, one of the best wing players in the game today. Manu is a fearless competitor with one of the most unique games in the league. He brings the soccer pitch to the hardwood every night (both in how he changes direction and embellishes to earn the whistle) and shows a creativity that is a pleasure to watch every single night. Just as dangerous off of the bounce as he is shooting the jumper, he uses his craftiness and shifty left hand to create angles that other players just don’t see and can finish with authority at the rim or with finesse around bigger defenders. The guy has a complete game, and is one of my favorite guys in the league.

But as a team, last season would not be the Spurs’ year. Coming into the season as the defending champs (which is already a strike against them, considering they’ve never repeated as champs in three previous tries), the Spurs had a tough hill to climb as injuries to key players and improvements from other teams made their quest to repeat an extremely difficult task. In the playoffs they easily dispatched of the Phoenix Suns in the first round, but were then pushed to the limit by the upstart Hornets (where only experience and some Game 7 moxie helped them pull out the victory), and ultimately fell to our team in a series that many thought would go longer than the 5 games that it actually took. And although the Spurs were clearly hampered by an obviously not 100% Ginobili in their loss to the Lakers, I think that they would have struggled to beat us even if Manu was healthy considering Kobe’s ability to score at will with his jumpshot and how the Spurs didn’t have the bench to play with our 2nd unit. So, as in seasons past, the Spurs look to retool on the fly and compete in a tough divion, and an even tougher conference, hoping for another chance to win a title.

This upcoming season will be an interesting one for the Spurs. Over the past few seasons, they watched their role players get old and have not been able to find young players capable of stepping in to replace the production that their steady veterans have provided. But this year, they will not have a choice and will need some of their young players to make strong contributions. Gone are Robert Horry and Brent Barry. And while Michael Finley and Kurt Thomas return, they are now just spot players and should not be counted on for major contributions, even if they are feeling younger by practicing some new training techniques. So the Spurs will be looking for solid minutes from younger players that are unproven in this league. Guys like Ian Mahinmi, their 2005 first round pick out of France who’s shown very good improvement over the past year in the D-league and has flashed good athleticism that could help boost the Spurs frontcourt. The Spurs understand that Mahinmi is still raw, but he’s got talent and they’ll be looking for his size, length, and the bounce in his step to add a dimension to their rotation. They’ll also be looking to Salim Stoudamire, the former Hawk whose long distance jumper and ability to handle to ball (some) will hopefully replace some of what Brent Barry has provided recently. Besides them, rookie guard George Hill from IUPUI will get some run and try to help bolster their PG rotation after they traded away Beno Udrih early last season (if Hill’s name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the player that the Lakers brass was supposedly very high on in this past draft, hoping to snag him with our 2nd round pick, instead picking up Joe Crawford). However the one young player that the Spurs were hoping they could rely on will not be available to them this next season. Tiago Splitter is the Brazillian big man with first round talent whose rights are owned by San Antonio. He’s played very well in Europe over the past two seasons and the Spurs were hoping to bring him over this next season to have him bolster their F/C rotation. Splitter’s bruising style on offense and defense combined with his hustle and energy would be valuable to any NBA team, but match what the Spurs need to help Duncan almost exactly. But Splitter decided to stay in Europe instead and signed a contract to remain with Tau Ceramica of the Spanish League. Splitter’s decision was doubly hurtful for the Spurs as many think it was their reliance on a future this upcoming season with Splitter that swayed them to trade Luis Scola to the Rockets before last season.

Can the Spurs make another run? Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili remain. And while Ginobili is still on the mend from surgery, the team (and even more importantly the head coach) has a positive perspective as he can now, finally, heal from the injuries that plauged him during the playoffs and the Olympics. Injuries that sapped him of his trademark explosiveness and ability to play to his full ability. And even though some of the Spurs players are getting older, they are still contributors and continue to fill roles that help win games. Bruce Bowen, though not the all world defender he once was, is still a major irritant to wing scorers and can still hit that corner 3 pointer. Jacque Vaughn is still a decent back up PG that has refined his mid range jumper and avoids mistakes. Fabricio Oberto is still a quality big man that works well in tandem with Duncan, hustles on defense and the glass, and brings a craftyness and savvy that few big men operate with. And Ime Udoka is becoming the new Bowen…making timely jumpers and providing perimeter defense, putting a strong body on the leagues top scorers and playing within the Spurs team defensive concepts. There’s also new addition Roger Mason (from the Wizzards) who is another wing player that can hit the 3 pointer and play a good enough all around game to crack the rotation, helping to replace the departed Brent Barry and be a contingency for a declining Michael Finley.

In the end, the Spurs are still a western power. Especially when they have 3 all-star players and a head coach that I’d take over every other coach in the NBA not named Phil Jackson. Can they combine new pieces with their veteran core to make another run? I’m not sure (I wouldn’t bet against it, though). But I do know that, when healthy, they’re as tough an out as any team in the league. Ultimately, I see the Spurs competing hard for their division title with the Hornets and the improved Rockets and still in contention for a top 4 seed. If they can survive the first part of the season when Ginobili is out and have Duncan and Parker stay healthy, they’ll be in the mix. Their time is not over yet, and though there are other teams that are improved and will be strong as well, I see our longtime rival being right there this season…again.
Surprisingly good breakdown from the enemy's perspective. The Spurs vs. Lakers rivalry has never been stronger, and it's unfortunately been tipping to the wrong side lately. Hopefully this year will be our chance to even out the scales.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Express News: Spurs' Win Doesn't Provide Answers

By Mike Monroe

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich likely will make some cuts when his club returns to San Antonio after the two-game road trip that began here last night with an 86-64 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Knowing this, he allotted significant playing time to each of the three young wing players trying to carve out a spot on the regular season roster.

The head coach’s fondest wish: “I’d love for somebody to make it impossible for me to cut him,” he said.

That probably didn’t happen Tuesday.

Nothing Popovich saw Tuesday placed Malik Hairston, Desmon Farmer or Devin Green on the uncuttable list. Each had good moments, and bad, against the Pistons.

But Popovich saw something late in the second half of his team’s first preseason victory that may change the dynamic of his roster evaluations altogether. Rookie point guard George Hill, after another impressive performance in the first half, suffered a sprained left thumb when he got tangled with Pistons big man Antonio McDyess under the Detroit basket.

“We’re not sure,” Popovich said, “but he may have either a bad sprain or a torn ligament. We’ll have to wait for the doctor on that and hope for the best.”

A torn ligament likely would sideline Hill for an extended period. That could present the evaluation process with an unanticipated detour.

The X-ray machine at Van Andel Arena, where Tuesday’s game was played, was inoperative, so the extent of Hill’s injury could not be determined. Hill will be examined today in Cleveland to diagnosis the extent of the injury.

Hill isn’t sure how he injured the thumb, only that it resulted as he tried to box out McDyess, a veteran power forward who is one of the NBA’s stronger post players.

“It got a little physical down there,” Hill said. “I’ll just wait for the exam tomorrow and hope for the best.”

Before suffering the injury, Hill had knocked down 3 of 5 shots, including 2 of 3 3-point attempts.

He scored eight points, with four assists.

“All in all,” Popovich said, “he’s showing more confidence all the time and more awareness of what we’re trying to do.”

All of which makes the wait for today’s examination of Hill’s thumb even more nerve-racking.

With starter Tony Parker sitting out Tuesday’s game with what Popovich called “an Achilles thing” — better described as minor soreness in the All-Star point guard’s left Achilles tendon — Popovich ended up giving big guard-small forward Ime Udoka some time at point guard in the second half.

“I didn’t want to overplay Jacque (Vaughn),” Popovich said, “so Ime got a little time at the point. He enjoys handling the ball. Though he’s not going to blow by anybody, he enjoys it, so we were able to do it for him tonight.”

Udoka scored all seven of his points while playing the point, and did a decent job of running the Spurs’ offense.

“I’ve played a little spot point guard here and there,” he said. “Once George got hurt, Pop told me to be ready to take over for Jacque. I just tried to keep the little fellows off me. It would have been easier if all the other vets had been out there with me, but we managed to maintain the lead, so it worked out all right.”

The Spurs never trailed against the Pistons, who had won their first four preseason games. The Spurs held them scoreless through the first 41/2 minutes of the game, then limiting Detroit to eight points in the third period.

As for the evaluation of the three young wing players trying to make the roster, Popovich said he was no closer to a decision than he had been before Tuesday’s tipoff.

“They’re all competing very well,” he said, “trying to play the best basketball they can and trying to make the basketball team.

“All three of them are making it very difficult on us. They’re all playing very good basketball, each doing different things. It makes it a hard evaluation.”

As if we haven't already had enough bad news, looks like Hill is now making the bench even more crowded this an injured thumb. Hopefully things don't turn out to be too serious, because he was turning out to be a bright spot of this exhibition season, and was making quick strides towards earning the backup point guard spot.

Hoopsworld: Spurs Still Ticking?

There was nothing less important in the Spurs' first preseason game than the final score of 85-78 in the Rockets' favor. Spurs' veterans Tim Duncan, Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, and Manu Ginobili all sat out the game, leaving the Spurs with the youngest roster they've fielded in years. The Spurs have seen all they need to see from the guys that sat out last night's game. The most important thing is to find out what they can get from the guys outside of their solid core of veterans.

Three important players in particular were inserted into the starting lineup: Roger Mason, Ime Udoka, and Matt Bonner. While none of them are expected to be a starter, the hope is that they can become contributors and a part of the nightly rotation. That doesn't change despite the poor outings from them against the Rockets.

Mason was underwhelming in his Spur debut, a disappointing sign from a guy who has to have a big year for the Spurs to be successful. At this point though Mason's knowledge of this system is minimal and there is no real reason to be concerned. The athletic and offensive abilities that convinced the Spurs to sign him were on full display though, and we should see a much better Mason as he becomes more comfortable.

Nobody looked more upset about Ron Artest being a Rocket than Udoka when defending him last night. Udoka had his struggles on both ends of the court, which isn't too surprising with the Spurs missing Duncan and Ginobili. Udoka has always been a role player that is capable of excelling when playing off of stars. He needs Ginobili or Parker to do the creating and Duncan patrolling the paint behind him.

The same reasoning could be applied towards Bonner's offensive struggles, although defensively there's no excuse for pulling down just three rebounds in 24 minutes. Robert Horry was an outside threat for the Spurs, but more importantly he was intelligent defender who could hold his own in the paint. While Bonner can shoot from deep like Rob could, if he cannot keep from being a liability on the defensive end and in the paint he's not going to play.

The player most under the microscope outside of the above three had to be rookie George Hill, who was making his NBA debut. Once he got the nod in the second half he made a couple rookie mistakes. Overall though it was evident that Hill belonged and along with those mistakes was some nice moves offensively and an impressive five steals.

Should the Spurs carry the maximum of 15 players allowed this season there is just two roster spots for Charles Gaines, Desmon Farmar, Devin Green, Malik Hairston, Anthony Tolliver, Darryl Watkins, and Salim Stoudemire. Gaines, Green, and Farmar's chances of making the team are extremely slim and as of right now Hairston and Watkins have to be thought of as the favorites to get the final roster spots. There is still time though for Salim to impress and earn a spot on this team, although he has to get healthy first.

With the New Orleans Hornets next for the Spurs on their preseason back-to-back we will likely see more of the veterans. This will certainly make things easier for guys like Bonner, Udoka, and Mason. It will also take away some time from the fringe roster guys. Don't be surprised to see a cut or two from the Spurs in the next couple of days as they start to get closer to trimming their roster down to 15. You cannot really take anything too positive or negative away from their first preseason game. It's early, and if we've learned anything from the Spurs it's that their peaking process takes a bit longer than everyone else's.

Express News: Undrafted Tolliver Shoots For Spot On Spurs' Roster

Mike Monroe - Express-News

Two games into a preseason Anthony Tolliver hopes will prove he merits a spot on the Spurs' roster, the rookie free agent already has shown coach Gregg Popovich he understands the most important truth of pro basketball: Shooters must shoot, no matter what.

Signed by the Spurs after making an amazing 16 of 28 3-pointers in seven summer league games, he has made only five of 24 shots in the team's two preseason games.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward was 2 for 10 in Friday's 89-84 loss to the New Orleans Hornets at the AT&T Center, with both makes from 3-point range.

“My shots haven't been falling,” he said after Friday's contest, in which he also grabbed a game-high six rebounds, “but that's something that they know I can do, and I know I can do.

“So, I'm going to keep shooting when I'm open. It's not really a big deal.”

An over-abundance of adrenalin likely resulted in long-range inaccuracy in his first two games. Each of his 3-point misses was on line. Most were slightly long.

“I think there's something going on with his shot,” assistant coach Mike Budenholzer said, “whether it's pressing, or he's just too excited. We've noticed that most of his shots are on the back of the rim. He's geeked up. We've got to get him to cut back on the Cheerios in the morning.”

Preseason relaxation is a rare commodity for an NBA rookie without a guaranteed contract. Tolliver acknowledges he has been trying too hard.

“The majority of my shots are directly on,” Tolliver said, “but just a little too strong,” Tolliver said. “Tim (Duncan) keeps telling me to just slow down a little bit and calm down, but it's kind of hard in the first couple of games. (Thursday) was the first game, and this was the first home game, so it was hard to relax. I'm sure I will start doing what I do.”

Tolliver's willingness to keep shooting has impressed the coaches.

“I think the fact he keeps shooting and stays aggressive is a great sign,” said Budenholzer. “He's a great shooter, and when you're a great shooter you've got to keep shooting.”

The Spurs see Tolliver as the sort of sweet-shooting big man they use to open the floor, much as Robert Horry did in his five seasons with the Spurs. Shooting alone, though, won't earn him a roster spot.

“Coach Pop told me this summer he saw that I can shoot it,” Tolliver said, “and now I have to prove I can rebound and defend at this level. I think I've done a pretty good job, especially rebounding. I've tried to concentrate on the defensive rotations and make it my main focus.”

Back to work: After giving his players a day off after their back-to-back preseason games, Popovich scheduled a morning practice today.

They also are to practice on Monday morning before flying in the afternoon to Grand Rapids, Mich., where they will play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Their only extended road trip of the preseason will continue Thursday, when they are to meet the Cavaliers at Cleveland's Gund Arena.

Express News: Rookie impressive, but Spurs fall again

Jeff McDonald - Express-News

Five months ago, George Hill was sitting on his sofa in Indianapolis watching Chris Paul, New Orleans' Wizard of Ahs, carve up the Spurs in the NBA playoffs.

Like the rest of the basketball-watching public, Hill was impressed.

“He's one of the greatest point guards in the league today,” Hill said. “He's quick; he's crafty with it. You have to respect his game.”

On Friday night at the AT&T Center, far removed from the comfortable distance of his living room, Hill found himself nose-to-chest with an All-Star point guard he'd previously known only from television.

What happened next was an encouraging sign for the Spurs. Their rookie point guard held his own.

Hill, the team's top choice in this year's draft, finished with 10 points in 24 minutes of the Spurs' 89-84 defeat. He made a pair of 3-pointers, doled out three assists, had a block and a steal and did a capable job of defending Paul.

More importantly, when pitted against the best the NBA has to offer and his position, Hill — a 6-foot-2 guard from a little-known college called IUPUI — looked as if he belonged.

“George has a good, quiet confidence about himself,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He's got a good demeanor on the court.”

Mike James had 18 points off the bench to lead the Hornets. Tyson Chandler had 14, six of them on dunks coming off assists from Paul, who had nine points and seven assists.

At times, with the alley-oops flying and the rims rattling, it seemed like May all over again.

Tim Duncan made his first preseason appearance, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes for the Spurs, and Tony Parker logged his second consecutive solid outing with 10 points in 16 minutes.

The storyline for the Spurs, however, was the 22-year-old vying for time as Parker's backup.

Before the game, Popovich unveiled his plan to throw Hill into the fire early. The coach was just curious to see how his rookie would react.

“He can watch Chris go by him,” Popovich said then, “and try to figure out what he can do about it.”

Thrust into the fray in the first quarter, Hill wasted little time showing he belongs in the middle of this budding Western Conference rivalry.

Fourteen seconds into his shift, Hill found himself between Paul and the basket, the shot-clock winding down. Using his long arms wisely, Hill forced Paul into an awkward 7-footer that missed.

Within the next three minutes, Hill would pester Paul into another miss, draw a foul on a hard drive to the hoop and bury an open 3-pointer.

Later, Hill flashed his tenacity, scrapping ably with New Orleans forward David West after being caught in a switch.

“I think Coach Pop is starting to figure out I like taking a challenge,” Hill said. “I'm not going to back down from anyone. Chris Paul's a great player, and I'm a rookie. But at the same time, it's just basketball.”

Officially, Hill had made his NBA preseason debut a night earlier in Houston. Friday was just the day he became an NBA player.

Hill's veteran teammates had little sympathy for the rookie's tough assignment.

“That's the NBA,” Michael Finley said. “His days of playing in college are over. He's a professional now.”

Hill wouldn't have it any other way. He'd much rather meet Paul on the court than watch him from his sofa.

“You can't live in the fan world,” Hill said. “It's a business now. It's my job.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Express News: Ex-Spurs guard in Hornets' mix

Notebook: Ex-Spurs guard in Hornets' mix

Mike Monroe - Express-News The Spurs have a spirited battle for playing time behind starting point guard Tony Parker, with veteran Jacque Vaughn and rookie George Hill in the mix, and potential competition from Salim Stoudamire if his right groin strain ever heals.

Meanwhile, former Spurs guard Devin Brown is engaged in his own fight to become the primary backup behind the New Orleans Hornets' All-Star point guard, Chris Paul.

Brown signed with the Hornets on Aug. 22, leaving his home in San Antonio only long enough to fly to New Orleans to sign his contract. Then, it was back to San Antonio, where he grew up and starred at West Campus and UTSA, to join many of the Spurs in summer conditioning.

“I came back here and did all that training stuff they do — flipping tires and all that other crazy stuff,” he said before scoring five points in 22 minutes in the Hornets' 89-84 preseason victory Friday night at the AT&T Center.

“I was here all summer, and then went down there early, because we started our camp early because of our (preseason) games in Europe.”

Hornets coach Byron Scott sees Brown as a combination guard, able to play behind both Paul and shooting guard Morris Peterson.

“He has played extremely well (at shooting guard) with Chris in practice,” Scott said, “but he can run our team as well. I think he's getting our offense pretty good, but I want him to get to where he doesn't think about it, just reacts. He's done well the first couple of preseason games, and also in training camp.

“We came into camp looking at him strictly as a backup at point guard, having him and Mike (James) fight it out. But now it looks like he can play the two guard for us, too, so he and Rasual (Butler) can fight for that position.”

The Hornets' preseason schedule could not have worked out better for Brown. After a preseason game Wednesday in Indiana, they flew to San Antonio and had a light workout Thursday morning. That left Thursday afternoon for Brown to indulge in one of his passions: Golf at Oak Hills Country Club.

“I went to the bank,” he said, “and then I checked on everybody out at Oak Hills. I got around. We played yesterday, a six-some.”

New voice: There was something very different about Friday's pregame introductions at the AT&T Center: The voice.

For the first time in 18 years, it was not Stan Kelly's.

The team announced that Kevin Brock, who has been the Silver Stars PA announcer since the franchise moved to San Antonio in 2003, had replaced Kelly.

A club spokesperson said that Kelly's contract expired after the 2007-08 season and the team opted to go in a different direction.

Sitting out: It was Fabricio Oberto's and Ime Udoka's turn to take the night off on Friday. Neither player suited up for the game against the Hornets. Three Spurs starters — Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley — sat out Thursday's preseason opener in Houston.

Considering Devin Brown's skillset, it's really surprising he didn't find more of a home here in San Antonio. At the time of his signing, he seemed like the perfect story: Hometown kid coming out of UTSA and challenging the new big signing, Brent Barry, for wing space. However, I've heard serious doubts about his work ethic and commitment to the team, and that is ultimately what (apparently) got him a ticket out the town.

Express News: Mason rebounds after slow start

Jeff McDonald - Express-News

HOUSTON — Two quarters into his first preseason game in a Spurs uniform, Roger Mason Jr. felt a little lost.

It wasn't just that he was thinking too much.

“I was thinking about not trying to think too much,” Mason said.

Mason, a 6-foot-5 guard signed away from Washington in the offseason to replace Brent Barry and now needed to pick up some scoring slack with Manu Ginobili out, missed all four of his first-half shots in the Spurs' 85-78 loss to Houston.

A halftime powwow with coach Gregg Popovich set his mind right. In the first half, Mason said he spent too much time worried about being in the right place at the right time.

“In the second half, Pop told me to just go out and play,” Mason said.

The results weren't groundbreaking, but they were encouraging. Mason made two of his four field goals in the third quarter, scoring his only four points of the game.

More than that, he just looked more at home in his new No. 8 Spurs jersey after intermission. There was a reason for that.

“The second half, I felt much more comfortable,” Mason said. “I just played more off instinct.”

Barry likes Spurs' chances: Barry hasn't been in Rockets red for very long, so his opinion of his former team still carries some weight.

It should please his erstwhile teammates to know Barry believes the Spurs will be competitive to start the season, even with Ginobili expected to be sidelined until December while recovering from ankle surgery.

“A lot of teams are thinking the good news is that Manu is out for a month and a half,” Barry said. “Well the bad news is he's going to be back in a month and a half. He's going to have a month and a half of rest, and a few hard weeks of conditioning, and he's going to be fresh for most of the season.”

Knowing all he knows about the Spurs, Barry says he will be shocked if Popovich doesn't find a way to keep his team's head above water while Ginobili is out.

“There's no way with coach Pop and Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) and the experience that squad has that they're going to find themselves in a hole they can't get out of,” Barry said. “It would be ridiculous to think that.”

Bring in the vets: Tonight's exhibition against New Orleans at the AT&T Center should feature an appearance by a few of the more recognizable Spurs.

Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley all sat out the team's loss to Houston. Popovich says at least some of those veterans will play against the Hornets, though he's not quite sure who or for how long.

Injured pair closer to action: Popovich said he expects injured forward Kurt Thomas (strained hamstring) and injured guard Salim Stoudamire (strained groin) to return to return to practice “in a week at the most.”

Thomas arrived at training camp last week hobbled, while Stoudamire suffered his injury on the first day of workouts and hasn't practiced since.

The timing is particularly bad for Stoudamire, who must first make the team before he receives a fully guaranteed contract.

Popovich says if Stoudamire does indeed get back to practice next week, he would still have plenty of time to earn his spot.

“There are four or five games after these two, and another three weeks of practice,” Popovich said. “So he'll still have time to show us what he can do.”
On the other hand, Mason's time on the floor wasn't quite as productive, but he's obviously going through the hurdles that come with the Spurs' learning curve. Having to learn the most complex system in the league and filling the shoes of one Manu Ginobili has to come with a lot of pressure. Hopefully, Mason will come to find his place sooner before later, because this team needs him early in the season.
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