PRO BASKETBALL

Gregg Popovich's Spurs must overcome injury bug as playoffs near

2013-04-17T17:30:00Z 2013-04-18T22:52:04Z Gregg Popovich's Spurs must overcome injury bug as playoffs nearAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
April 17, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

An aging roster riddled with injuries is what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich feared most heading into the playoffs.

Well, he's got it, as do many NBA teams after a grinding 82-game regular season, so no use whining.

And the 1966 Merrillville grad won't. It's not his style.

The Spurs' walking wounded includes Tony Parker (sore neck, left ankle), Manu Ginobili (hamstring), Boris Diaw (back surgery), Tim Duncan (sore left knee) and Kawhi Leonard (sore left knee) -- all of whom have been starters.

"We're a little thin, but life goes on," Popovich said.

Giving their regulars limited time and dropping seven of the last 11 games cost the Spurs the No. 1 seed in the West, that going to Oklahoma City.

Popovich won't blame injuries, even after being fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern last November for "holding out" Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Danny Green for a highly-publicized TNT game at Miami.

Stern called it a "disservice to fans and the league" but Pop couldn't care less, saying he needs to rest his older players for the postseason. End of story.

"We've done it all year. We've done it for 17 years," Popovich said.

The last few weeks, though, have been a big concern.

"Our focus hasn’t been as good as it needs to be the last three to four weeks," Pop said. "I’ve been disappointed in our focus, and the defensive improvements that we’ve made this year I think have dissipated to some degree."

Winning a fifth NBA title may be his biggest challenge yet.

"A lot of guys have been in the system a long time and know it comes down to defense and being consistent," Popovich said. "It's always been about defense. If you don't play good defense in this league, you're nothing."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau calls the Spurs dangerous regardless of who's in the lineup.

In early February, the Spurs' B-team won at Chicago 103-89 without top scorers Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. They swept the series a month later in San Antonio.

"They're a lot more than two or three players," Thibodeau said. "The way Pop builds his team is special. They have shooting, they have toughness, character, intelligence, all the things that go into winning.

"They're the gold standard."

Thibodeau was a Spurs assistant in the early 1990s.

"When Pop got there, he had an idea of how he wanted to run that organization," Thibodeau said. "Everything he's talked about, he's done. They have great leadership. They have a system. And they're so consistent.

"It's amazing when you study them and you see what they do at home, on the road, with guys out. It's a machine, a credit to him. He set the plan in place and executed it."

Born in Indiana Harbor and still a "region rat" by his own admission, Popovich recently became only the second coach in NBA history to win 900 games with one team.

He is 905-425 overall in 17 seasons and has a playoff record of 118-77.

The formula is really quite simple, he says.

"I guess the first thing is do our homework ahead of time and not get someone because we think he's talented -- and then hope he understands about teamwork and camaraderie and work ethic and wanting to get better and enjoying other people's success and not just his own," Popovich said.

"That alleviates a lot of problems."

There is no caste system here. Popovich will rip Duncan, Parker and Ginobili quicker than any role player.

"While they're here, they have to be consistent," Popovich said. "If they don't play defense, if they're not going to rebound and go after 50-50 balls, they'll sit or be gone.

"And they know that real quick."

Veteran reserve Stephen Jackson, a genuine 3-point threat, had been whining about his lack of playing time, so Pop did what he felt was best for the team.

He waived Jackson last weekend and Tuesday signed 33-year-old swingman Tracy McGrady who spent this season playing in China.

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