Spurs have important homework assignment

Unlike many of his NBA counterparts, Spurs point guard Tony Parker admits to looking at the standings almost every day.

What he’s seen so far in this topsy-turvy, lockout-truncated season has shocked him.

Lose in overtime in Dallas, drop from third in the Western Conference to ninth. Win the next night in Memphis, jump from ninth to sixth and one game out of fourth.

What the turbulence has taught him is, this season more than most, the standings watching that has become part of his daily routine is an exercise in futility.

“It doesn’t matter, the standings,” Parker said. “You just want to make the playoffs. Once you make it, you know anything can happen.”

For the Spurs, the road to the playoffs runs through their home arena.

In the midst of a stretch of 16 of 21 games on the road that ranks as one of the most travel-weary in team history, the Spurs return to the ATT Center tonight to kick off a three-game homestand against Houston.

With the annual rodeo road trip looming next week, which includes nine straight games out of town, it will mark the Spurs’ last chance for home cooking until after the All-Star break.

With the Spurs struggling to gain traction on the road — they are 3-8 away from home, even after Monday’s resounding win in Memphis — every game at the ATT Center takes on added premium.

“Every year before the rodeo trip, those last home games, it’s important we finish well,” said Parker, whose team will also face New Orleans and Oklahoma City before turning the ATT Center over to the bulls and broncs.

“These three games are huge, because then we go on the road forever.”

The Spurs aren’t yet overly concerned with their good-but-not-great record of 13-9, a game behind Dallas in the Southwest Division.

For the Spurs and other teams, this season — with its every-night-is-game-night feel — has become about survival.

Finish in the top eight of the conference, make the postseason field, and let the playoffs sort it out.

“It is a bit of a circus,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan, the only player on the team around for the league’s last lockout in 1999. “A lot of guys are worn down and beat up. In the West, you’ve just got to try to get in the playoffs as best you can.”

To Duncan’s point: In the last lockout-shortened season, the New York Knicks became the only team in league history to make a run from the eighth seed to the NBA Finals.

The top-seeded Spurs beat them in five games to claim their first NBA championship. Still, coach Gregg Popovich believes that title had more to do with a 23-year-old Duncan and a David Robinson still in the same zip code as his prime, and not necessarily seeding.

“You just try to be the best team you can be, and be healthy going into the playoffs,” said Popovich, whose team is a league-best 10-1 at home. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case last year, but I’m not sure we can control the health part.”

Indeed, if any season demonstrated to the Spurs the overrated value of seeding, it was 2010-11. They won a conference-best 61 games, lost All-Star guard Manu Ginobili to a sprained right elbow in the season finale in Phoenix and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the No. 8 Grizzlies.

As Duncan put it, “Seeding is irrelevant, but health means a lot.”

Still, day in and day out, Parker will cue up the NBA standings and take a peek.

It is a habit he just can’t seem to break, even if he knows, at this point, it’s pointless.

“This year, it really doesn’t matter where you finish, so long as you just make the playoffs,” Parker said. “I really believe that.”


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