Ginobili feels Blair’s pain over midseason benching

By Mike Monroe

Removed from the starting lineup for the first time all season, Spurs forward DeJuan Blair was in no mood to speak with reporters after Thursday’s practice session.

If Blair’s reluctance to talk indicated unease about being replaced by veteran Antonio McDyess for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons, he can expect to get a pep talk soon from a teammate who understands what it feels like to go from starter to reserve.

“I’ve got to say it’s not easy for a guy like him, starting for 63 games, being the center of the leader in the NBA,” said guard Manu Ginobili, well acquainted with coach Gregg Popovich’s tactical maneuvers. “He’s young. He’s got to adjust, but he’s a great kid. He wants to win. He’s going to do good.”

No Spur can relate to Blair’s discomfort more than Ginobili. A starter and key contributor from 2002-03 through 2005-06, he was asked to take a reserve role in 2006-07. Then, he came off the bench for the final 35 regular-season games in which he played, and all 20 games of a playoff run that ended with the team’s fourth NBA title.

“I’m never shocked by a lineup change with Pop,” Ginobili said. “Probably with the record we have right now, you probably thought he would hold it. But he thought it was best for the team, and he went ahead and did it.”

McDyess has been a mentor for Blair in the young forward’s first two seasons in the NBA. When he returned to the Spurs bench after being introduced with the rest of the starters for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons, Blair welcomed him with a hug.

Ginobili took that as a good sign, but will monitor Blair’s mood and speak to him if he believes an encouraging word is required.

“We’re probably going to see how he feels, if he’s down or does not feel good about it,” Ginobili said. “One of us will probably talk (to him), but he’s been here for a while. He’s seen me going back to the bench .?.?. during the playoffs. I don’t see a reason why he should take it bad.”

LET THEM EAT CAKE: McDyess wielded a cake slicer at midcourt of the team’s practice site Thursday, doling out slices of a cake that celebrated his 1,000th game as an NBA player.

“That is impressive,” teammate Richard Jefferson said of McDyess’ milestone. “We didn’t make him cut the cake, but we made him give a speech.”

Both McDyess and Spurs captain Tim Duncan have reached the 1,000-game plateau. In only one other season, 1999-2000, have the Spurs had two players with at least 1,000 career games, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey.

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