Spurs can take foot off gas, but when?

By Jeff McDonald

Now that the Spurs have locked up the top seed in the Western Conference, rendering the final three games of the season close to meaningless, coach Gregg Popovich has decisions to make about how soon to start resting some of his older players.

Thirty-something starters like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Antonio McDyess might anticipate a night off before the end of the regular season, but perhaps not right away.

“If there’s a chance to give somebody a break, we’d probably do it,” said Popovich, whose team next plays Saturday at home against Utah. “At the same time, we watch everybody’s minutes all year long. We don’t have anybody that’s been overplayed, so it’s not really a huge concern.”

The question of when to take the foot off the gas will certainly be a topic of conversation in coaches’ meetings for the next few days.

At the heart of the issue is the old question of rest vs. rust. In the past, Popovich has preferred to give his older players ample time to recharge at the end of the season, and almost certainly will again at some point this year.

Still, with 10 days between clinching the West on Wednesday and the possible start of the first round April 16, there is a danger in squandering some of the momentum accumulated during the three-game winning streak, should they downshift too quickly.

“This is the time of year where everybody who is going to be in the playoffs wants to go in with momentum,” Popovich said.

Duncan, who turns 35 on April 25, remains a particularly interesting case. Normally, Popovich would jump to give his captain as much rest as possible entering the postseason.

But with Duncan coming off a sprained ankle that cost him four games in late March and early April, he could probably use some time to maintain the groove he’s been working on since returning.

In the past five games, Duncan has averaged 16 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 64.6 percent (31 of 48). In the three games Duncan played more than 30 minutes, he averaged 20 points and 10.7 rebounds.

“I think his rhythm is coming back,” Popovich said. “He’s making some jumpers. I think he’s doing OK.”

NEW MEANING TO GREEN WEEK: Locking up best record in the Western Conference put quite a few extra dollars in the players’ pockets.

From the league’s $12 million playoff pool, $302,841 goes to the teams that compile the best records in each conference. The second-place teams in both conferences get $243,411 apiece.

The Spurs’ seventh-place finish last season got them just $179,092. Beating the Mavericks in the first round earned them another $213,095.

There is a significant financial incentive for the Spurs to lock up best record in the league in their final three games. Should they finish with a better record than the Chicago Bulls, the only Eastern team that can surpass their 60 victories, another $346,105 will go into their playoff kitty, for a total of $648,946 before a single playoff game is played.

Express-News staff writer Mike Monroe contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply