Popovich unapologetic for resting aging stars

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Spurs open their second and final back-to-back-to-back of the season tonight at Golden State.

That means at some point over the next three nights, coach Gregg Popovich will likely draw the ire of basketball purists, talking heads and fantasy geeks everywhere.

Though Popovich has announced no definitive plan to rest players on the whirlwind trip to visit Golden State, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento, 30-somethings Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson — as well as soon-to-be 30-something Tony Parker — would be wise to pack a sport coat just in case.

Popovich’s penchant for sidelining perfectly healthy players in the name of rest and relaxation has taken fire from two fronts.

One is from those who argue along “integrity of the game” lines. When Popovich chose not to take any of his Big Three on the road to Utah last week, for instance, it helped the Jazz get a win vital to their pursuit of the Western Conference’s final playoff seed, artificially affecting the race.

Popovich’s counter-argument? If a team is unhappy with its playoff lot, it should have won more games.

“I think people should mostly take care of their own business and end up where they end up based on how well they play, not based on other people,” Popovich said.

Popovich harbors more sympathy for fans who plunk down their hard-earned cash to watch an NBA game, only to have a D-League contest break out.

After Popovich sat four players in Portland in February, he received a disgruntled letter from such a fan.

“I understand completely,” Popovich said. “I would feel exactly the same. If I went to watch Miami, and LeBron (James) and Dwyane (Wade) weren’t playing, I’d feel shorted.

“It’s natural human reaction and totally understandable, but I have a different priority. I have a different responsibility, and that rules for me.”

Jedi mind trick: The last time the Spurs faced a back-to-back-to-back, from March 23-25, Popovich sat Duncan, Ginobili and Parker one game apiece.

The Spurs swept the set from Dallas, New Orleans and Philadelphia anyway, becoming the fifth team to win three games in three nights this season.

Might Popovich approach this trip the same way?

“You never know what Obi-Wan’s going to do,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, everybody’s going to have to be ready.”

Green clocks out: Starting shooting guard Danny Green did not play in the second half Saturday against Phoenix, as Popovich opted to replace him with Ginobili to start the third quarter.

Though Green has been playing much of the year with a sore left shoulder, the move had nothing to do with an injury, Popovich said.

“He’s been playing a lot,” Popovich said. “It was a good opportunity to give him a bit of a rest.”


Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

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