Ginobili ready for stretch run

CLEVELAND — Though he is not ready to declare himself fully prepared for a playoff run, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is encouraged enough by his recent productivity to believe he can reach maximum efficiency by season’s end.

Limited by a series of injuries to just 21 of the team’s 50 games, the two-time All-Star from Argentina has scored 50 points in his last three games, which included playing both games of a back-to-back set for just the third time.

The strained left hip flexor that slowed his return after his recovery from a strained left oblique no longer is causing postgame aches and pains. He is beginning to feel like a legitimate third leg of the Spurs’ Big Three with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

“T.D. is playing great, and we know the kind of season Tony is having, and I’m slowly trying to join in,” Ginobili said. “I’m starting to feel better, stronger, not aching like two weeks ago, so I’m feeling optimistic and feeling really good.”

The Big Three is on a run of three straight games in which all three members have scored in double figures and totaled at least 50 points. The Spurs are 6-0 when the three stars score 50 or more.

With tonight’s game the first of the final 16 of the season and the playoffs little more than three weeks away, Ginobili says the Big Three are easing into playoff mode.

“Yeah, there’s under 20 games to go,” he said. “We know we’re on the last stretch, and we’ve really got to start to click even more. We want to be the best team we can possibly be, and I think we are on the right track.”

Streaking: Winners of seven consecutive games, the Spurs already have two of the nine longest win streaks of the season. Their 11-game streak that stretched from Jan. 30 through Feb. 20 is the longest.

Only two other teams have win streaks longer than seven games: The Miami Heat won nine in a row from Feb. 10 through March 1; and the Chicago Bulls won eight straight from Feb. 20 through March 7.

Coach of the Month: For the second consecutive month, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was named the NBA’s Western Conference Coach of the Month.

Popovich guided the Spurs to a 12-3 record in March, including the seven-game winning streak to end it, and victories in nine of the past 10 games.

Flattening the learning curve: The Spurs didn’t practice Monday, but newcomers Boris Diaw and Patty Mills stayed late after a Sunday practice session for some extra work. The pair joined second-year guard James Anderson in a three-on-three-game against coaching interns, including former backup center Sean Marks, so they could familiarize themselves with the offensive and defensive systems and get some added conditioning.

“We’ve got a few guys who have to get used to playing with us,” Ginobili said, “so that’s important.”

Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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