Popovich using bigger rotation in these playoffs

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich typically shrinks his player rotation once the playoffs arrive, usually to no more than nine.

Through the first two rounds of this playoff run, however, he has continued to employ what amounts to a first team and second team, and that carried into Sunday’s close-out victory over the Clippers in Game 4.

Ten Spurs average at least 14 minutes per game. Only Tony Parker (35.0 minutes per game) and Tim Duncan (32.0) average more than 30.

Popovich got 14 points from Gary Neal in Game 4, eight in the fourth quarter. Backup big man Tiago Splitter had 11 points and seven rebounds in 24 strong minutes.

“We’ve been playing like that, but (Sunday) it was even more important,” said Manu Ginobili, a reserve only because Popovich likes the leadership on the second unit. “We played (Sunday) in a very important game. I think he tried to sit Tim for a longer period in the first half. So, yeah, depth always helps, especially in this type of playoffs where we don’t have the three days off like we used to.

“Hopefully, it keeps happening. These six or seven days — I don’t know how many we’re going to have off — are going to be important, too.”

In fact, the Spurs began their regimen of rest immediately after securing the sweep of the Clippers. They remained in Los Angeles after their Game 4 victory and returned to San Antonio at midday Monday. They won’t return to the practice court until Wednesday and will have another day off before practicing again Friday.

It is the same every-other-day work schedule Popovich employed in the week between their first-round sweep of the Jazz and Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

“It looks like it worked pretty good last time we did it,” Neal said.

Fundamental rejections: By blocking Chris Paul’s shot with 1:57 left in Sunday’s game, Duncan prevented a basket that could have given the Clippers a one-point lead. It also moved Duncan closer to becoming the all-time leader in playoff blocks.

Duncan has blocked 468 shots in 184 playoff games and needs only four to catch Hakeem Olajuwon for second on the all-time playoff list. He is just eight behind all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It should be noted that blocks did not become an official NBA statistic until 1973-74, after two of the game’s greatest shot blockers, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, had retired.

Duncan, however, jokes that he already is the all-time leader, both regular season and playoffs, in a special category.

“I’m pretty sure I am the all-time leader in blocks without leaving one’s feet,” he said earlier this season.

Officially select: USA Basketball on Monday made official what Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair have known for more than a week: They will be part of a select team of young stars who will scrimmage against the players who will compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team in Las Vegas in July.

The select team will be coached by former Raptors coach Jay Triano and Syracuse University assistant coach Mike Hopkins.

“The USA Select Team was a vital part of the USA Men’s National Team’s training in 2007, 2008 and 2010, and again in 2012 we’ll utilize this team of select NBA players to help get our National Team ready for the very competitive summer that is ahead of us,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a release.

Tickets available: Even with dates, times and an opponent unknown, tickets for Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals went on sale Monday at the Spurs’ ticket office at the ATT Center.


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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