Duncan: Sink or swim time for Spurs bench

By Mike Monroe

Two days away from playing the first game of his 15th season, Spurs captain Tim Duncan has declared himself fit, fresh and deeply concerned about the team’s depth.

A 66-game schedule being shoe-horned into 121 days will require the Spurs to play 17 sets of back-to-back games and two sets of back-to-back-to-backs.

It is one of the NBA’s most demanding schedules, and Duncan understands it will require more playing time from reserves.

“We’re going to find out if guys can play, if guys are ready to go, ready to contribute, because we’re going to have to use a lot of guys,” he said. “Whether you want to or not, you’re going to have to put guys out there and let them sink or swim.

“It’s not just our team. Everybody’s going to break down. Everybody’s going to need a deep team. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”

Duncan is one of only four big men on the Spurs roster with NBA experience, along with DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter. Two more big men, power forward Frank Hassell and center Luke Zeller, remain on the roster on make-good contracts.

“We need some guys to step up, a lot of guys,” Duncan said. “We’re going to need some of our bench to find their way and find their rhythm and help us out a lot. That will have to answer itself here come season time.

“We’ll have to figure out who’s going to be out there and who can give us some help, game in and game out, because it’s going to be a lot of games in not a lot of days and that depth is really going to make a difference.”

Blair’s answer: Blair, likely the starting center on opening night, has a fresh idea about how to make certain Duncan is fresh for the playoffs.

“We are going to play Tim a couple of games,” he said. “It’s 66 games in 120 days. That’s wild. I would rather Tim would sit out until the playoffs. We just have to get there first. That’s my big brother. I don’t want him to get hurt. I’m saving him.”

Of course, the Spurs’ chances of making the playoff field in the Western Conference are minuscule if Duncan plays only “a couple of games,” as Blair knows.

“He’s good and he wants to play every game if his body lets him,” Blair said. “It’s Pop’s decision and he’s going to be all right. I’ve got his back.”

Ho-ho-ho: The Spurs will practice today, but Popovich is giving his players a day off to celebrate Christmas. The truncated training camp means there hasn’t been a special emphasis on preparation for Monday’s game.

“It’s everything,” Popovich said, “squeezing a lot into a short time. We’re also not trying to go too fast. We all have to try and gauge what we think we can get in well, instead of what we think we can get in sloppily. It will take time.”

With two rookies on the roster and a new backup point guard, T.J. Ford, there has been plenty of teaching to get done in the short camp.

“They’ve been pretty efficient,” Popovich said of his new players. “The young guys are good people, good character, willing participants. I think they’re figuring things out pretty quickly.”

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