Few practices in busy Spurs schedule

By Mike Monroe

The Spurs will spend part of the first day of the new year in the air and the first night of 2012 on the road.

Aside from the Lakers, who played three games in the first three days of the lockout-delayed season, the Spurs have one of the busier early schedules. Tonight’s game at the ATT Center against the Jazz will be their fourth game in six nights. By the time they conclude their second set of back-to-back games — Golden State on Jan. 4 and Dallas on Jan. 5 — they will have played seven in 11 days, with six of those crammed into eight days.

With four travel days included among the 11 days, there is little likelihood they will have a single practice before Jan. 6, an off day between home games against the Mavericks and Nuggets.

Lack of opportunity is but one of the reasons the quality of play this season will suffer from the diminished practice. Because the Spurs have only 13 players on their roster, rather than the 15 they have carried each of the past three seasons, full five-on-five work in practices likely will be curtailed.

“Everybody’s got fewer bodies for a variety of reasons,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It gives one a little bit of concern, injury-wise, but it’s going to be difficult to have very many really good practices during the season. The bodies that all of us used to have maybe aren’t quite as important in that regard, anyway. It’s going to be tough to do.”

If there is no opportunity for a full practice soon, Popovich said he will ask some of the young players to come to the team’s practice facility so shooting guard Gary Neal can get some full-contact work to prepare him for a return to action, likely next week.

Meanwhile, James Anderson is trying hard to shrug off the fact he won’t get to watch the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night, when the Spurs will be playing the Timberwolves at Target Center in Minneapolis.

“It should be a great bowl game,” said Anderson, who played at Oklahoma State. “I’ll just have to Tivo it.”

Career first: DeJuan Blair’s 22 points against the Rockets gave the third-year big man from Pittsburgh consecutive games with 20 or more points for the first time in his career, but not his best two-game total.

Blair last season scored 18 in a Feb. 8 road win over the Pistons and followed with 28 points in a road victory in Toronto the next night.

At 22, Blair is the youngest of the Spurs’ starters, so it’s no surprise he logged more court time than the rest of the starters on Thursday night, nearly 29 minutes.

Popovich’s decision to rest his older players in the second half of what would turn out to be a blowout loss didn’t surprise him.

“That’s how it’s going to go the whole season,” Blair said. “The whole season is going to hit us right on the head, really fast. So we’ve got to use every chance to be ready for it.”

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