Popovich: Life on road tougher than in the past

NEWARK, N.J. — Over the past nine seasons, the mythology of the Spurs’ rodeo road trip has taken on a life of its own.

It was a time when the Spurs jelled for the season’s stretch run, the place where championships were forged.

Is it still? Gregg Popovich isn’t so sure.

“As guys get older, the trip gets tougher,” the Spurs coach said. “When they were all young, it wasn’t that tough. I threw that pablum out there, ‘We all get together, it’s a bunker mentality.’

“Now, it’s ‘When is this sucker over?’”

This year’s incarnation of the rodeo trip has in fact barely begun. The Spurs are 2-0 on the nine-game jaunt heading into tonight’s game against New Jersey, still three weeks away from their next home date.

Five days in, Popovich has found value to life on the road. With so many new parts on his roster and in his rotation this season, the extended time away from home has given players a chance to bond in ways they might not have otherwise in this condensed lockout season.

A fan of team field trips on the road — he once took players on an outing to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., for example — Popovich laments the lack of time for such excursions this season.

“There’s no time for any of that stuff,” Popovich said. “This kind of trip, we’re together for so long, so we’ll do something.”

With five nights in New York City before and after tonight’s game against the Nets, the Big Apple would seem to be as good a place as any for such an outing.

Not so fast, Popovich said.

“All my field trips in New York are personal,” he said. “Total selfishness, and hedonistic.”

Duncan not heartbroken: ??After 13 straight trips to the All-Star Game, Tim Duncan was neither surprised nor dismayed to learn Western Conference coaches declined to put him on this year’s team.

“I’m not broken up about it,” Duncan said.

Popovich refused after practice Friday to enter a discussion about whether Duncan — who is averaging 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds — deserved to be on the team. Later, Popovich joked he could have done more to promote his venerable captain’s All-Star chances.

“I thought about sending teddy bears to the coaches that said, ‘Vote for Tim,’” Popovich said.

To which Duncan shot back, with mock incredulity, “You didn’t do that?”

Lonely All-Star: Point guard Tony Parker got news of his fourth All-Star nod the way the rest of America did — by watching the TNT selection broadcast Thursday.

His inclusion gives the Spurs an All-Star representative for the 14th consecutive game.

“I was happy to keep the streak going for the Spurs,” Parker said. “I’ve always said it’s a reward for the team. We’ve been playing well.”

Parker’s only regret is that Duncan won’t be going with him. He considers Duncan in the same category as Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki — an aging but still worthy candidate, despite a drop in numbers.

“When you see Dirk making it, I thought maybe T.D. had a chance,” Parker said. “I was sad. I have to go solo.”


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