Ginobili back at practice, but not yet ready to suit up

Don’t expect to see Manu Ginobili in uniform for tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls at the ATT Center.

But the oft-injured Spurs guard participated in the team’s Tuesday practice session, a positive sign that the strained rib muscle that has sidelined him since Feb. 18 is on the mend.

“Manu is out,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He partial-practiced. He just wanted to test it a little bit, see how it’s feeling. He’s not ready to play yet. He knows what kind of season it is. He wants to be healthy when he comes back, so he doesn’t want to do anything that would be unwise and keep him from being ready for the playoffs.”

Backup point guard T.J. Ford, who has missed 24 games since suffering a torn muscle in his left hamstring Jan. 10, will suit up tonight. Popovich promised he would try to find some playing time for him if game conditions permit.

Most worrisome at the moment are injuries to two players who have helped Popovich cope despite not having Ginobili and Ford available.

The availability of second-year guard Gary Neal, who suffered a hamstring strain in Thursday’s victory at Denver, will be a game-time decision. Rookie guard-forward Kawhi Leonard, who strained muscles in both calves in Denver, did not practice and likely won’t suit up tonight.

A full participant in Tuesday’s practice, which included some five-on-five drills, Ford believes in Popovich’s cautious approach to injuries.

“Know what?” he said. “Most guys play hurt. Most guys probably play with injuries they should rest. But being with this team and the structure here, the confidence each player has in this team is the highest I’ve ever seen in my life. So no matter who is playing and who is out, guys are stepping up and performing.

“That’s the great thing about not having to rush back and having to play the whole season with a serious kind of injury that will be nagging for the entire year.”

Special guests: Former Sam Houston High School star Eric Dawson will have two very special guests in attendance at tonight’s game: his wife and aunt.

Since returning to San Antonio from his first four games with the club after his call-up from the D-League’s Austin Toros, Dawson has gotten a lot of calls from family and friends asking for tickets to tonight’s game so they could see him in silver and black. Understanding he can’t accommodate everyone, they have planned a game-watching party at a relative’s home.

“They kind of understand,” he said. “They know. They just want me to be focused. My wife and my aunt are coming. Not too many people, but (the rest) will go to a relative’s house and watch the game.”

Dawson signed a 10-day contract Feb. 19, which means the club must sign him to a second 10-day deal or waive him Thursday.

“I’m anxious,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I gave them my all and left it all on the court. It’s out of my hands. I proved to them I can play at the next level. I’ll leave it up to those guys and continue to work hard.”

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