Spurs’ blowout loss blemish in big picture

By Mike Monroe

DENVER — The first half of the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Spurs season ended with a calculated thud in Portland on Tuesday night.

The outcome of the 33rd game of the 66-game post-lockout season was a 40-point loss that will skew some of Gregg Popovich’s favorite statistical benchmarks: opponent points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage.

The Trail Blazers’ 137 points and 59.3 percent shooting were season highs for a Spurs opponent.

Count on the Spurs’ coach to use those defensive efficiency measures as a prod when he needs a motivational tool.

Loss aside, it was rest for his top two scorers one night after claiming the team’s seventh victory of the nine-game rodeo road trip that mattered to Popovich — not extending an NBA season-best 11-game win streak heading into tonight’s game in Denver.

There was little expectation the Spurs would win a road game against the Blazers without five members of Popovich’s preferred playing rotation: team captain Tim Duncan, All-Star point guard Tony Parker, star shooting guard Manu Ginobili, backup point guard T.J. Ford and backup center Tiago Splitter.

Even after ending the first half of the regular season with such a lopsided loss, Popovich knows his team has exceeded every expectation anyone had for it, including its ability to thrive after Ginobili broke his left hand in just the fifth game of the season.

Getting to the midway mark with a 23-10 record that leads the Southwest Division and is second-best in the Western Conference surprised even him.

“They’ve exceeded expectations, without a doubt,” Popovich said.

There are many explanations for such overachievement, and Popovich went down the list one by one:

?“We’ve had some people who have had some of their best years, like Matt Bonner. I think this is his best all-around season so far.

?“Tiago Splitter has given us what we thought he would give us when we brought him over (from the Spanish ACB League), so that’s been a good addition.

?“The young guys like Gary Neal, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have all done a good job and exceeded expectations we had for them considering what kind of a season this is and how short training camp was. So you have to be pleased with what they’ve done.

?“Duncan has played at such a high level, I thought he should have made the All-Star team again.”

?“And, obviously, Tony Parker has played at a very high level. It may be his very highest level ever, because he’s not just scoring; he’s assisting, he’s playing defense and he’s leading.

Duncan and Parker will be back in the starting lineup against a Nuggets team that had to play the Clippers in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The Nuggets’ charter flight wasn’t scheduled to land in Denver until after 3 a.m.

Popovich wants his players to maintain the unified play that made the first 33 games such a surprising success and re-establish their competitive edge.

“The group has played unselfishly, really played solid basketball, night in and night out and showed some mental toughness,” he said. “Hopefully, we don’t lose that edge during the All-Star break.”


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