By Jeff McDonald
Just before the start of the Spurs’ preseason game at Houston on Sunday, Tim Duncan grabbed the ball and hugged it tight, as is his pre-tip ritual.
Lead official Ken Mauer glanced at a running clock above the Toyota Center baskets and issued a reminder: “30 seconds, Tim.”
In an effort to curb pregame routines it believes are slowing down the game, the NBA this season is emphasizing a rule that allows referees to assess a delay-of-game warning to teams whose dancing and handshaking choreography gets out of hand.
From the time the house lights go up after pregame introductions, teams are allowed 90 seconds to get jiggy. If all five players are not ready to tip off after those 90 seconds, officials can issue a warning.
Long regarded one of the NBA’s most low-key teams, the Spurs don’t expect to be affected by the rule enforcement.
“I had some 89-second handshakes worked out with my teammates,” forward Matt Bonner said. “I had to cut those out.”
Considering that Miami forward LeBron James’ elaborate chalk-tossing routine has become the stuff of shoe commercials, Bonner was asked if the new edict could rightly be called “The LeBron Rule.”
“No comment,” Bonner said. “I’m not going to say anything to get LeBron mad at me.”
Pop’s mediator: When Don Newman left during the offseason to become Randy Wittman’s lead assistant coach in Washington, it left quite a void in the Spurs’ game-day operations.
For seven seasons, Newman was the coach charged with keeping Gregg Popovich from ringing up technicals. Often, when an exchange between Popovich and a referee would get too heated, Newman would physically step between the two men and shepherd his boss back to the bench.
“He didn’t have to work very hard, because I rarely got one,” Popovich said, though perhaps that’s an indication of how good Newman was at his job. “He just acted like he was holding me back all the time.”
Newman has been replaced on Popovich’s bench by former Spur Ime Udoka, who as a member of the Nigerian national team once had to fight his way out of a gym in Algiers.
Here’s guessing Udoka is up to the task.
Habitat help: Not long after Thursday’s practice, three Spurs players zipped off to a construction site on the city’s southwest side, where hammers and hard hats awaited.
Centers Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter and guard Cory Joseph were among the Spurs Sports Entertainment employees on hand to help with various construction projects in Coleman Ridge, a subdivision developed by Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio.
The event was part of the annual citywide United Way Day of Caring.